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Article United States: Appeals Court Rules that Courts Cannot Require State Department to Issue Visas Past Deadline

On June 25, 2024, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit held that district courts lacked the authority to order the U.S. Department of State to continue processing applications and issuing visas delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic after the statutory deadline had passed. (Goodluck v. Biden, No. 21-5263 (DC Cir. 2024).)

Background to the Case

The diversity visa program, created by the Immigration and Nationality Act, 8 U.S.C. § 1153(c), allows the State Department to issue up to 55,000 immigration visas for immigrants from countries with low rates of immigration to the U.S.. The State Department operates a lottery for individuals to apply for visas; the selected individuals must still submit an application, appear for an interview before a consular officer, satisfy all admissibility requirements, and receive the visa before the end of fiscal year. Once an individual receives the diversity visa, they are permitted to travel to the U.S. and have an immigration officer determine their eligibility to enter the country. (Goodluck at 3-4.)

Between April 2020 and February 2021, Presidential Proclamation 10014 suspended immigration during the pandemic and no diversity visas were issued during that period. The pandemic caused a backlog in visa services and, in November 2020, the State Department issued guidance to its “consular posts to follow a four-tiered prioritization scheme for addressing the backlog, with diversity visas in the lowest-priority tier.” Four cases were filed in district courts by plaintiffs selected for the fiscal year 2020 and 2021 lotteries who argued that the State Department’s policies unlawfully prevented them from obtaining visas before the end-of-fiscal-year deadlines. The district courts ordered the State Department to process and issue visas beyond the end of the fiscal years. (Goodluck at 5.)

The Courts’ Authority to Issue an Injunction

On appeal, the circuit court consolidated the four district court cases to consider whether the lower courts had the authority to order the State Department to process and issue visas past the deadlines. The circuit court held that the district courts lacked this authority, as the governing statutes controlled the deadline for the program and Congress gave the State Department administrative authority over the diversity visa program. (Goodluck at 9-16.)

The circuit court emphasized that the district courts did not have statutory authority and there was no history or context to support a court ordering the State Department to consider visa applications beyond the statutory deadline. According to statute, lottery selectees only become “eligible” to receive visas through the end of the fiscal year; they are not entitled to a visa by the deadline. (Goodluck at 9, citing 8 U.S.C. §§ 1153(e)(2), 1154(a)(1)(I)(ii)(II).) They also noted that immigration policy is typically governed by the executive and legislative branches; therefore, unless statutory authority is given to the judicial branch, judicial interference is generally inappropriate. (Goodluck at 10-11.)

The circuit court also rejected the plaintiffs’ argument that the district courts could extend the deadline because they issued their orders prior to the statutory deadlines. According to the circuit court, it did not matter that the plaintiffs had submitted their documents, filed a lawsuit, and obtained preliminary relief before the end of the fiscal year, because “the deadline is keyed to the receipt of a visa.” (Goodluck at 14.) The circuit court concluded that the injunction entered before the deadline “merely required the government to ‘undertake good-faith efforts’ to process diversity-visa applications ‘expeditiously’ and until the end of the fiscal year.” (Goodluck at 16-17.) The plaintiffs failed to present evidence that the State Department did not meet its obligation to act in good faith without undue delay, so the district courts could not rely on that as justification for extending the deadline. (Goodluck at 17.)

Because the circuit court held that the district courts lacked authority to extend the statutory deadline beyond the end of the fiscal year, it remanded the cases instructing the district courts to enter judgment for the government and reversed the orders extending the diversity-visa deadlines. (Goodluck at 17.)

Sarah Friedman, Law Library of Congress
July 9, 2024

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Chicago citation style:

Friedman, Sarah. United States: Appeals Court Rules that Courts Cannot Require State Department to Issue Visas Past Deadline. 2024. Web Page. https://www.loc.gov/item/global-legal-monitor/2024-07-08/united-states-appeals-court-rules-that-courts-cannot-require-state-department-to-issue-visas-past-deadline/.

APA citation style:

Friedman, S. (2024) United States: Appeals Court Rules that Courts Cannot Require State Department to Issue Visas Past Deadline. [Web Page] Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/global-legal-monitor/2024-07-08/united-states-appeals-court-rules-that-courts-cannot-require-state-department-to-issue-visas-past-deadline/.

MLA citation style:

Friedman, Sarah. United States: Appeals Court Rules that Courts Cannot Require State Department to Issue Visas Past Deadline. 2024. Web Page. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, <www.loc.gov/item/global-legal-monitor/2024-07-08/united-states-appeals-court-rules-that-courts-cannot-require-state-department-to-issue-visas-past-deadline/>.