DC Judge Won't Shield Indian Citizens From H-1B Visa Ban

By Suzanne Monyak
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Law360 (September 16, 2020, 2:31 PM EDT) -- A D.C. federal judge on Wednesday refused to shield nearly 200 Indian citizens from President Donald Trump's proclamation barring foreigners from moving to the U.S. on new H-1B specialty occupation visas through the end of the year.

Echoing his ruling this month in related litigation, U.S. District Judge Amit P. Mehta said the Indian citizens, who themselves are trapped abroad during trips to India when borders closed, were not likely to win their case contesting Trump's visa ban, which barred new H-1B visas, J-1 trainee visas, H-2B guest-worker visas and L visas for internal transfers.

The proclamation, purportedly issued to free up jobs for American workers during the COVID-19 pandemic, has been met with an onslaught of litigation brought by would-be immigrants, technology giants and business associations.

Judge Mehta, however, did conclude that the visa hopefuls are likely to convince the court that the Trump administration must continue processing their visas despite the entry restrictions. But since they are unlikely to secure an end to those entry bars, requiring the U.S. Department of State to nonetheless process their visa requests "would be an exercise in futility," the judge said.

"Such an order would risk diverting limited resources away from visa applicants who are eligible under an exception to the proclamation, and could create substantial confusion for visa recipients attempting to enter the country only to be denied at ports of entry," he wrote.

Within hours of Judge Mehta's opinion Wednesday, attorneys for the Indian citizens had filed a notice indicating their plans to appeal the ruling to the D.C. Circuit.

A federal judge in California is also weighing a separate challenge to Trump's visa ban, brought by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other industry groups.

Judge Mehta's 11-page opinion largely reiterates the same reasoning proffered in his Sept. 4 decision in a related case, which combined the Indian citizens' claims with several other challenges to the visa restrictions.

In that combined case, Judge Mehta ordered the government to process green cards for winners of the Diversity Visa lottery, which gives out 55,000 green cards to foreign citizens from underrepresented countries, but stopped short of ordering relief for foreign citizens trapped abroad in other blocked visa categories.

Since winners' eligibility for green cards expires at the end of September, Judge Mehta ordered the State Department to process their visas "expeditiously."

In Wednesday's opinion, while failing to order relief for the Indian citizens stuck abroad, Judge Mehta did raise an eyebrow at the Trump administration's argument that the visa delays could have been caused by other factors, not the proclamation.

This claim "is blatantly contradicted by the record evidence before the court," Judge Mehta wrote, pointing to the case of Yukti Bhatia, who got stuck in India while waiting to renew her visa after six years studying and working in the U.S.

While consular services have slowed, they have not stopped entirely, and if not for the proclamation, Bhatia may have been able to secure a consular appointment to have her visa stamp renewed, the judge said.

A spokesperson for the U.S. Department of Justice declined to comment, and an attorney for the Indian citizens didn't return a request for comment Wednesday.

The Indian citizens are represented by Jonathan D. Wasden, Bradley B. Banias and Geoffrey Forney of Wasden Banias LLC.

The federal government is represented by Aaron S. Goldsmith, Glenn M. Girdharry and Joshua Press of the DOJ's Civil Division.

The case is Panda et al. v. Wolf, case number 1:20-cv-01907, in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

--Editing by Orlando Lorenzo.

Update: This article has been updated with details from the order and background on the case.

Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated a date. The error has been corrected.

For a reprint of this article, please contact reprints@law360.com.

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Case Information

Case Title

PANDA et al v. WOLF


Case Number

1:20-cv-01907

Court

District Of Columbia

Nature of Suit

Other Statutory Actions

Judge

Amit P. Mehta

Date Filed

July 14, 2020

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