Indian, Chinese nationals challenge slowdown in green card approvals

Some 100,000 green cards at risk of going to waste as Indian technology workers remain stuck in backlog

A group of 125 Indian and Chinese nationals have filed a lawsuit challenging the slowdown in green card approvals in a bid to save the annual quota from lapsing by the end of September.

The petitioners had filed applications for permanent residency during or before December 2020, along with their dependent family members — spouses and minor unmarried children.

About 100,000 employment-based green cards are at risk of going waste this year as the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) faces historic application backlogs related to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Over 1.2 million immigrants—most of them Indians working in the tech sector— waiting in line to become permanent residents for years are watching a prime opportunity to win a green card slip away, the Wall Street Journal reported.

USCIS started off its fiscal year in October 2020 with 120,000 more green cards than the 140,000 it typically hands out, a prospect that promised to put a meaningful dent in the yearslong backlog, it said.

But with less than two months left in the fiscal year ending Sept 30, 2021 it is far from reaching that goal, WSJ said citing a State Department official, Charlie Oppenheim.

Oppenheim, according to the Journal, said in a July question-and-answer forum on YouTube that he estimated the government would end September with about 100,000 green-card numbers still on the table. Any green cards that aren’t rewarded by the end of fiscal year will expire.

USCIS, which has been plagued with money problems and reduced processing capacity since the start of the pandemic, has been approving green cards at a slower rate than normal, the Journal said.

The average green-card application is taking about 10.5 months to complete, up two months from last year, it said citing government data. In some extreme cases, green-card applications have been sitting for up to five years, the data show.

Read: Indians may lose benefit of spillover of 150,000 green cards (July 15, 2021)

Meanwhile, the lawsuit filed by Indian and Chinese nationals asks the district court in Maryland to order USCIS to immediately adjudicate their applications and/or reserve the additional visa numbers.

“Due to the pandemic, an unusually low number of family-based green cards were approved in fiscal year 2020 (ended Sept. 30, 2020), causing unused family-based visas to ‘roll over’ into the employment-based category in fiscal year 2021,” it says.

This created a unique opportunity and obligation in the fiscal year 2021 (ending Sept. 30,2021) for USCIS to approve more employment-based green cards than usual, and thereby significantly reduce the decades-long wait for Indian and Chinese applicants and their employers, the lawsuit said.

At the beginning of the fiscal year on October 1, 2020, USCIS announced it would accept applications from thousands of Indian and Chinese nationals who had already been waiting years, some over a decade.

“Finally, their time had come. But their joy and relief quickly turned to anxiety as it became clear that USCIS had no plan or intention to timely process these applications, which must be adjudicated before the end of the fiscal year,” it added.

The moot point is that if USCIS does not adjudicate the employment-based green card applications within the two months of August and September, these additional visa numbers that have rolled over from the unused family category will be wasted, the lawsuit says.

Read: Will Indians soon see light at the end of the long Green Card tunnel? (March 13,2021)

“This will cause the already lengthy visa backlog to grow, and plaintiffs will have to wait years or decades more before they become eligible for residency again,” points out the lawsuit.

“Since, USCIS had ample warning of the increased number of applications for the fiscal 2021, and knew that these visas had to be adjudicated by the end of the fiscal year or be completely wasted, it is unreasonable that the agency made no plan to timely process these applications,” it says.

“The agency happily accepted the millions of dollars in legal fees for the I-485s, knowing full well that it did not have the resources or capacity to adjudicate the thousands of applications received by September end,” the lawsuit points out.

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