SEATTLE (AP) — Lawyers for a group of highly skilled immigrants from India and China say they'll keep pressing the government to allow their clients — and tens of thousands of others — to immediately apply to become permanent U.S. residents, even after a federal judge rejected their request for an emergency order.
The State Department issued a notice early last month announcing which categories of the immigrants would be able to file their final green card paperwork beginning Oct. 1, a step that grants several benefits, including the ability to change jobs and travel abroad more easily as they wait for permanent resident status.
But officials revised it on Sept. 25, severely curtailing who could apply — and frustrating thousands of people who had already spent money on legal fees and medical tests to get their applications ready.
More than a dozen of the immigrant workers sued the government in federal court in Seattle last week, arguing the change was arbitrary and had violated their due-process rights.
They sought an emergency order forcing the government to abide by its original notice, but U.S. District Judge Ricardo S. Martinez rejected that bid on Wednesday, saying they had not shown that they were likely to win their case or that the order would be in the public interest.
The case will continue with both sides making full arguments.
"We're disappointed, but we also think we have a viable case going forward," said Gregory Siskind, a lawyer for the immigrants.
In court documents, officials said they had to correct the earlier notice because it suggested more visas were immediately available than federal law allows to be issued. Moreover, the notice itself was simply advisory and did not create any actual right to file final green card paperwork, they said.
The judge found that persuasive.
"It appears the revised visa bulletin did not in fact substantially alter or diminish the rights of plaintiffs and potential class members, rather it clarified an erroneous prior statement of their rights," Martinez wrote.
He also noted that the immigrants "cannot point to any law establishing that a visa bulletin can create a constitutional right to due process."
The lawsuit, which seeks class-action status, was filed by more than a dozen immigrants. Among them are Quan Yuan, a Chinese-born math professor at the University of Wisconsin-Stout, and Qi Wang, a Chinese citizen who lives in Superior, Colorado, and works as a research engineer at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, the government's main lab for renewable energy research.
The U.S. issues up to 40,040 visas each year to workers in the category of the affected immigrants, but it limits how many visas can be issued to immigrants of any single country. That's created huge backlogs for immigrants from India and China, countries with large numbers of highly skilled workers who want to stay in the United States.
Last year, President Barack Obama issued an executive order seeking to streamline the U.S. legal immigration system.
The case has garnered attention from members of Congress, some of whom criticized the State Department's handling of the matter, as well as top companies. On Sunday, Microsoft Corp., Google Inc., Intel Corp., Halliburton Co. and several other businesses joined the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, immigration lawyers and others in sending a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry and Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson urging them to abide by the original bulletin.
They called the government's handling of the matter "heartbreaking for these immigrants and deeply troubling for all who observed the process," and they argued that the government could allow the immigrants to file the paperwork — and start receiving the benefits that come with doing so — even if the actual green cards aren't immediately available.
"This situation and its aftereffects ultimately contribute to the ever-growing impairment of our country's ability to attract and retain the best talent in the world," they wrote.
Hyderabad, India, natives Amar Dhamanaboina and Ashok Sirupa, who each work as information technology consultants in Dallas, said Wednesday they were discouraged by the judge's decision. Sirupa said he spent more than $2,300 on legal and medical fees to prepare his application, and that he recently declined a lucrative job offer because he hasn't been able to file his final green card paperwork.
"Politicians are discussing a lot of things about immigration, but they're not talking about us, about legal immigrants," Dhamanaboina said. "We're doing our jobs. We're paying our taxes. Our kids were born here and they're going to school here. We're contributing to this country."
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