Federal judge Amit Mehta issued an order preserving diversity (immigrant) visas issued after his September order that would have expired without their holders being able to travel in the U.S due to a presidential proclamation

“The number of diversity lottery visas would increase from 55,000 to 80,000 a year.”

This is part of the newly introduced President Biden’s immigration bill.

The program aims to diversify the immigrant population in the United States, by selecting applicants from countries with low numbers of immigrants in the previous five years.

But the lucky winners from the previous “DV 2020 generation” weren’t so lucky. 

The DV2020 story

After the Covid-19 pandemic outbreak, now former president Trump stopped almost all of the legal immigration in April 2020, signing а presidential proclamation, which in June was extended until December 31 and which was suspending entry into the U.S. for new immigrants and some work visas saying that would protect the labor market.

That was devastating for thousands of lottery winners whose visa interviews were supposed to happen from October 1, 2019 to September 30, 2020. The embassies started canceling already scheduled interviews for March 2020 and did not continue with scheduling new interviews for the following months citing the proclamations, even though they were suspending entry, not visa adjudication.

With the proclamations in place after the last date for interviews for the fiscal year, thousands of diversity lottery winners would forever lose their chance for an immigrant visa.

The Gomez case

This prompted several lawsuits against the proclamations which were consolidated into the Gomez case in front of federal judge Amit Mehta of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia.

He held a hearing in late August and issued an order for preliminary injunction on September 4, 2020. He found that it is within the president’s power to stop entry into the country, but it is not to stop with visa interviews and the whole visa adjudication process. And because the diversity visa is restricted with a firm deadline, he directed the State Department to start treating the diversity visa applicants as “mission critical” and to start conducting interviews from that point and until September 30.

The embassies started rescheduling already scheduled and canceled interviews, and even some documentarily qualified people got their interviews scheduled for the first time, they stood before consular officers and got their visas. There were around 7,000 people who got their visas after the order. The  visas have an annotation that reads “Entry subject to PP10014” meaning they can’t enter until Trump’s presidential proclamation is in effect. And also, there was the State Department’s policy that they can’t issue or reissue diversity visas after the deadline.

Judge Mehta issued another PI order on September 30, 2020 reserving another 9,095 visas to be issued after the fiscal deadline, but only if the plaintiffs win final judgment. The lawyers ask that all of the 55,000 visas are granted but that remains to be seen, either with a court order or via Congress.

Presidential (in)action

And fast forward to December 31, 2020. 

Most of the people who got their visas in September had visas valid for 6 months, which is somewhere in March, 2021. That’s why they hoped that now former president Trump doesn’t extend the proclamation and they can start entering the country from January 1, 2021. But those hopes crushed several hours before midnight on New Year’s Eve when Trump signed another extension, now until March 31, 2021, just long enough so every single of those visas would expire unused. The Worldwide Times wrote a whole story on the developments in those hours.  

The people with visas had already celebrated Joe Biden’s victory back in November and were closely following what was happening in front of and inside the U.S. Capitol on January 6. They couldn’t wait for January 20 to arrive and for Biden to become president and end the proclamation.

After all, he already criticized the June’s extension.

But that day come and went, and in terms of immigration he only reversed the Muslim ban, which, as I wrote, doesn’t mean anything if this proclamation stays in place. 

There was a whole other day for immigration issues on February 2, which was the next big chance for the visa holders but Biden didn’t do anything for the ban, even though there were media reports that he would. 

The second PI

The lawyers in the case before Judge Mehta went back before the court explaining the situation and asking for a solution. The DOJ’s lawyers were saying that the new administration is reviewing the proclamation but couldn’t offer a timeline for a decision, so the plaintiff’s lawyers filed another motion for a PI asking for National interest exemptions for entry and for preserving the expired and soon to be expired visas. 

Just hours before the decision on February 19, the defendants sent a letter to the judge, telling him that the State Department started giving National interest exemptions to people whose visas were set to expire from February 17 to February 28, and that they are considering giving additional NIE’s which exempt people from the proclamation meaning they can enter the U.S. They also reassured that the review of the proclamation would conclude before the end of February.

Later that day Judge Mehta issued the order on the PI. He invoked the All Writs Act, preserving the visas from expiring and restarting their validity date from final judgement or from the end of the proclamation, whichever comes first. In case of additional NIE’s granted, he would amend the order to include this.

This is another historic order from the judge which brought great relief for the visa holders because it means that whatever happens now, their visas won’t expire and they would be able to use them, to come to the U.S. and start their new lives.

They are now waiting for a move from the State Department that should tell how they will implement the order. This week would be crucial for visa holders whose visas were set to expire in March.

But they don’t have to worry anymore. Their American dream would come to life.

Other DV stories

In the similar position are tens of thousands of DV lottery winners from the next generation 2021 whose interviews should’ve started from October 1, 2020 and run through September 30, 2021. But not a single interview has been conducted since October. Five months have been wasted and it’s uncertain when they will begin. There are other lawsuits that target them and that ask that all of the 55,000 visas need to be allocated even if that process runs after the deadline.

And there are also people who won the lottery from 2017 until now, but who were barred from receiving a visa because of Trump’s Muslim ban. This injustice should be corrected by the new administration.

We will follow the developments on all of these fronts.

The diversity visa winners in the consolidated Gomez cases are represented by Andrew Pincus, Matthew Ingber and Cleland Welton II of Mayer Brown LLP, Jesse Bless of American Immigration Lawyers Association, Karen Tumlin, Esther Sung and Jane Bentrott of the Justice Action Center, Stephen Manning, Tess Hellgren and Jordan Cunnings of the Innovation Law Lab, Laboni Hoq of the Law Office of Laboni Hoq, Charles Kuck of Kuck Baxter Immigration, Greg Siskind of Siskind Susser PC, Jeff Joseph of Joseph & Hall PC, Kristina Ghazaryan, Philip Duclos, Abadir Barre and Curtis Lee Morrison of the Law office of Curtis Morrison and Rafael Urena of the Law Office of Rafael Urena.

Written by: Jovan Postoloski

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