Two Mason City doctors sue feds over eight-year wait for green card

By: - September 20, 2022 12:07 pm

Two Mason City physicians and their daughter are suing the federal government over an eight-year wait for their green card. (Photo by Getty Images)

Two Mason City physicians and their daughter are suing the federal government over an eight-year wait for their green card.

Dr. Pranav Singh, his wife, Dr. Harpreet Kaur, and their daughter, Ishnoor Kaur, are suing the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Iowa.

Singh, described by his lawyers as “one of the world’s most talented pulmonary medical doctors,” alleges that the DHS has failed to process the family’s green-card application in a timely fashion. The granting of a green card — officially called a permanent residency card — has the effect of bestowing lawful permanent residency on noncitizens and is a pathway to full citizenship.

In the lawsuit, Singh’s lawyers note that the long and convoluted application process has a provision that essentially re-starts the process if DHS fails to process an application by the Sept. 30 end of the current federal fiscal year. In effect, after waiting eight years to be considered eligible for a green card, DHS’ failure to act on his case would force Singh back into the waiting line and result in years of additional delays.

The lawsuit claims that if DHS does not act within the next 10 calendar days, the family will face “the untenable situation where they will not receive their green card for many more years because of a discriminatory per-country limit enshrined in (federal law) that has created a decades-long backlog for Indian nationals.”

This is true, the lawsuit alleges, despite the fact that thousands of employment-based green cards are still available for the current fiscal year.

One of the driving forces behind the delays, the lawsuit alleges, is the federal government’s “discriminatory practices against Indian nations.” Singh’s lawyers note that applicants from most nations other than India are not subject to years-long delays in green-card processing.

In August 2014, Singh filed a petition, on behalf of himself and his wife and daughter, for alien worker status. In April 2022, he was notified that the family’s green-card application was ready to file so their status could be changed to that of permanent residents.

When USCIS notified Singh of this fact, the agency also informed him that after Sept. 30, their so-called “immigration priority date” for processing would retrogress.

Retrogression occurs when the cut-off date for approval, which is set by the State Department and determines the availability of visas, moves backward instead of forward. If retrogression of their immigration priority date occurs, Singh and his family will be “left in limbo, waiting for a benefit they applied for more than eight years ago,” the lawsuit claims. “With the card still unissued, the family faces the risk that they soon will be declared ineligible to adjust their status to that of permanent residents.”

Congress has established annual limits for the number of visas issued and the number of adjustments of residency status. In addition, the Immigration Act of 1990 created per-country limitations, stating that no country’s citizens can make up more than 7% of the total number of family-based or employment-based visas issued in any given year.

As a result of the per-country cap, nations with particularly high numbers of applicants are placed in a waiting line, creating a backlog of individuals waiting for the opportunity to even apply for permanent residency. Within the category of employment-based applications, the backlog is particularly large for individuals from India.

Under U.S. policy, the overall number of employment-based visas that are considered “available” to be issued is large enough that some simply expire and go unused even as the visa backlog for Indian nationals grows due to the per-country limits.

In 2020, a Congressional Research Service study projected that an applicant from India with an advanced college degree would wait an estimated 195 years to become eligible for permanent residency though an employment-based visa.

“These wait times are so dramatic that hundreds of thousands of immigrants will drop out of line by dying before they become eligible to apply for residency,” the lawsuit states. DHS knows that if it cannot process applications by Sept. 30, the end of the federal fiscal year, some visas will be “completely wasted,” the lawsuit states.

“It is unreasonable that the agency made no plan to timely process these applications,” Singh’s lawyers have told the court. “The agency happily accepted the millions of dollars in legal fees for the (applications), knowing full well that the agency did not have the resources or capacity to adjudicate the thousands of applications received by Sept. 30.”

The lawsuit accuses DHS and USCIS of violating the Administrative Procedure Act, which requires agencies to address issues needing a decision “within a reasonable time.” It seeks a court order compelling the agencies to process before Sept. 30 Singh’s applications for lawful permanent residency in the United States.

DHS and USCIS have yet to file a response to the lawsuit.

Singh, who graduated from Maulana Azad Medical College in India, is licensed to practice medicine in Iowa, Florida, Pennsylvania, Arkansas, North Carolina and Missouri.

He currently works as a pulmonologist and intensivist for MercyOne North Iowa in Mason City, where he served as one hospital’s medical director of respiratory therapy from August 2012 until July 2021. Kaur works as an endocrinologist at MercyOne North Iowa.

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Clark Kauffman
Clark Kauffman

Deputy Editor Clark Kauffman has worked during the past 30 years as both an investigative reporter and editorial writer at two of Iowa’s largest newspapers, the Des Moines Register and the Quad-City Times. He has won numerous state and national awards for reporting and editorial writing. His 2004 series on prosecutorial misconduct in Iowa was named a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Investigative Reporting. From October 2018 through November 2019, Kauffman was an assistant ombudsman for the Iowa Office of Ombudsman, an agency that investigates citizens’ complaints of wrongdoing within state and local government agencies.

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