Tens of thousands of highly-skilled foreign workers have been left unable to file an early application for adjustment of status to an employment-based US Green Card visa after the State Department revised their October visa bulletin, originally issued on September 9, without explanation. The revised October visa bulletin, issued on September 25, severely restricted who could apply. While the overall processing time for lawful permanent residence remains unchanged being able to submit an early application for adjustment of status would enable applicants to work freely for any employer and would make travel easier.
On Thursday, October 1, tens of thousands of highly-skilled immigrants thought they would be able to make an early application as part of the process to become legal permanent residents. Instead, they've been left without the opportunity to apply for a US Green Card visa and out of pocket, due to many applicants having already paid legal and medical fees in preparation for lodging an application.
Immigrants affected by the State Department's U-turn are mainly from China and India, many of whom hold advanced degrees and have worked for renowned tech companies or worked in the medical field.
They had hoped that they could file US Green Card visa applications for adjustment of status in some cases years earlier than previously expected, enabling them to secure work authorization status and the ability to travel more easily while they waited to obtain Green Cards.
Initial October visa bulletin
The initial October visa bulletin published on September 9 would have made it possible for many more immigrants to file their Green Card application on October 1. The bulletin was issued in response to an executive order, in 2014, from President Barack Obama in an attempt to reform the US immigration system.
It was expected that many foreign workers in the US on employment based non-immigrant visas, would benefit from early filings of employment based immigrant visas. It was expected that it would help immigrants mainly from China and India that in many cases have to wait years to obtain a green card.
In preparation to file, many began getting their paperwork in order immediately. Thousands of dollars were spent on lawyers and the necessary medical reports and vaccinations obtained.
October Visa bulletin revised
However on September 25, without warning, the USCIS revised the initial visa bulletin, reducing the numbers eligible to apply early by presenting new dates of filing for adjustment of status for many migrants. To make matters worse for immigrants, the State Department gave no indication as to when those who could no longer file early after the latest version of the October bulletin might in future be able to benefit from early filings.
Commenting on the State Department's actions, 32-year-old Shashi Singh Rai, 32, of Gurnee, Illinois, said: "My husband is a systems engineer at a pharmaceutical company, he's put off obtaining a master's degree in business administration for five years. He's had to turn down promotions all because he has to wait for a Green Card as his visa-petition is job specific."
After the State Department issued the initial bulletin, Mrs Rai recalls how she and her husband had excitedly called their parents in India. Having spent $600 acquiring their birth certificates, she said the disappointment that followed had nothing to do with the financial loss they had suffered.
"Every one of our dreams have been on hold because of this situation and we've been incredibly patient. We were hanging on to a tiny thread of hope, now that thread has been cut," she said. "Every one of our dreams have been on hold because of this situation and we've been incredibly patient. We were hanging on to a tiny thread of hope, now that thread has been cut," she said.
33-year-old Swaroop Venubaka, a software engineer in Tysons Corner, Virginia, said: "Three days off work I took to prepare an application, plus I spent $2,600 on legal and medical fees. I've not gone back to Hyderabad in India for the last three years because of the hassle of travelling without a Green Card."
The initial visa bulletin put a 'smile on his face' ; he was very excited about the prospect of taking his six-month-old son to India to see his parents and wider family. However, Mr Venubaka now expects that his wife will have to journey back to India without their son later in the year.
State Department declines to comment
The Statement Department declined to comment on its decision to revise the initial visa bulletin, saying it 'does not discuss litigation.' The US Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) also offered no comment.
A class-action lawsuit has now been lodged by disgruntled immigrants, who say they have spent thousands of dollars between them – lawyers actually estimate the total losses to be in the regi0on of tens of millions of dollars – while also suffering emotional distress as many had to cancel trips, miss weddings and funerals or take time off work, which all proved to be for nothing.
An excerpt from the lawsuit filing, submitted to the US District Court in Seattle, reads: 'This case is about what happens when thousands of law-abiding, highly-skilled immigrants spend millions of dollars preparing to apply for Green Cards in reasonable reliance on an agency's binding policy statement, only to find out at the last minute that a hapless federal bureaucracy has abruptly, inexplicably, and arbitrarily reneged on its promise.'
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of 14 individuals and one organization, the International Medical Graduate Taskforce, a company made up of physicians who place doctors in job roles in rural American communities. Lawyers involved in the case estimate that between 20,000 and 30,000 immigrants were impacted by the State Department's decision.
On September 30, lawyers called for an emergency order to prevent the revised bulletin from coming into effect. In addition two California Democrats – Zoe Lofgren and Mike Honda – released a statement expressing their disappointment at the State Department's decision and demanded that they allow those who qualified under the original October visa bulletin to be allowed to apply.
An excerpt from their statement reads: "The State Department revisions seriously weaken the stability and predictability of the US immigration system. It comes at a time when the US has to work harder than ever before, competing with the rest of the world, to bring in highly-skilled workers. Making such a sudden change like this is unacceptable."