Law360 (July 23, 2020, 8:30 PM EDT) -- Foreign citizens with approval to work in the U.S. are waiting months to receive their printed work permit cards from the federal immigration agency, threatening the jobs of thousands of foreign workers, a new proposed class action lawsuit alleged.
Filed in Ohio federal court on Wednesday, the suit claims that U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service is arbitrarily refusing to print work permit cards after approving them, leaving visa-holders unable to show their U.S. employers that they are authorized to work in the U.S.
The suit also argues that USCIS is depriving foreign workers of the work permits they are legally owed in violation of their constitutional rights, and alleges that the agency is sitting on a backlog of at least 75,000 unprinted employment authorization documents, or EADs.
"By delaying or refusing to provide EADs to plaintiffs and class members, defendants have abused their power in an egregious and outrageous manner, without any reasonable justification in the service of a legitimate governmental objective, and with either an intention to harm plaintiff and class members or deliberate indifference," the complaint says.
The ombudsman for the agency confirmed in an alert on Wednesday that USCIS had "reduced its capacity to print secure documents," such as work permits and permanent residency cards, after ending its contract with a third-party company that previously printed the cards.
According to the alert, USCIS had planned to hire federal employees to take over the printing, but that effort has stalled due to the agency's projected financial troubles. USCIS, which is primarily fee-funded, has projected a $1.2 billion budget shortfall as a result of declining immigration applications during the pandemic and is requesting a bailout from Congress.
USCIS "expects these backlogs will continue for the foreseeable future," the alert says.
Wednesday's lawsuit was brought on behalf of Ranjitha Subramanya, an Indian citizen who came to the U.S. on an H-1B specialty occupation visa to work at Nationwide Insurance. She later changed her status to an H-4 visa, reserved for spouses of H-1B holders, through her husband's H-1B visa, which is valid through June 2023, according to the lawsuit.
According to her lawyer, Robert H. Cohen of Porter Wright Morris & Arthur LLP, her husband, also an Indian citizen, has an approved green card petition, but the couple is waiting in a years-long backlog for a green card to become available.
Subramanya applied to extend her H-4 work permit in December, and USCIS approved the request in April. Typically, the printed card is issued within a few days of the approval, the suit says.
However, despite multiple calls and requests to the agency, Subramanya still didn't have her printed card by June, when her previous work permit expired. She was forced to leave her job then, and her employer has told her that she will be terminated permanently if she does not have her work permit by August.
Cohen told Law360 that Wednesday's lawsuit was "born out of extreme frustration." He initially intended to file it as a lawsuit but said he decided to file it as a proposed class action after reading a story in the Washington Post about the printing delays.
Since announcing his plans, he said he has heard from other immigration attorneys across the U.S. who have reported experiencing long delays to receive work permit cards for green card and asylum applicants as well.
"We've made every effort that we could, but USCIS is not a user-friendly agency anymore," Cohen said. "We had just reached the end of what we could do short of filing a lawsuit."
A USCIS spokesperson said that the agency does not comment on pending litigation.
Subramanya is represented by Robert H. Cohen, Caroline H. Gentry and David P. Shouvlin of Porter Wright Morris & Arthur LLP.
Counsel information for the government was not yet available.
The case is Subramanya v. United States Citizenship and Immigration Services et al, case number 2:20-cv-03707, in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio.
--Editing by Steven Edelstone.
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