“We were having tea. I was with clients at a café. I had gone to show them a house. In the Seattle area which is a tech hub, the conversation inevitably moves to visa status. They mentioned their L-2 status and how thankful they were for the Shergill v Mayorkas settlement which has given them the freedom to work in US without needing to apply for employment authorisation. It felt great to hear this, hence I asked them – do you know who this Shergill in the Shergill v Mayorkas is? They knew my last name is Shergill and were overjoyed when I told them that it was me! They were super, super thankful!” says a proud Aman Shergill, while sharing that numerous people around her and from all over the US have reached out in gratitude for her efforts at securing what is a landmark victory for immigrant spouses on H-4 and L-2 visas.
A realtor in the Seattle area, Aman Shergill and her software engineer husband Ripan Shergill moved to North America from Chandigarh, Punjab 15 years ago. Their dreams of a model immigrant family life were coming true as expected – they acquired Canadian citizenship soon.
But unexpected bureaucratic hurdles came up once they moved to the US. “We had done our immigrant journey in Canada. When we came to US we never thought we will have to go through it again. Something was fundamentally wrong and that was the whole push,” says Ripan Shergill.
Being Canadian citizens did not help them get their green cards sooner, as their country of birth is India. Hence they are stuck in the massive green card backlog, which affects Indians disproportionately.
What Pushed Them to Pursue Action
The Shergill family’s frustrations with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) grew, pushing them to become a plaintiff in the Shergill versus Mayorkas class action lawsuit, in which they were joined by 14 other immigrants who had similar career breaking experiences. Alejandro Mayorkas is the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, and hence the defendant in the case.
An Amazon employee, Ripan Shergill is on an H-1B, a highly skilled work visa category, which makes his spouse Aman an H-4 visa holder. A Master's in Science from Punjabi University in Patiala, Aman started to work with a prominent realty firm after receiving her H-4 Employment Authorisation Document (H-4EAD).
But when that expired, she had to wait months for its renewal, impacting her career, “We applied to renew her EAD as required before expiry, but because of COVID and other things going on, it didn’t come through on time. We raised a severity request and asked USCIS to file the case on compassionate grounds, but both requests were rejected."
Aman’s realty work was going well. She had 25-30 clients. Even though very supportive, Redfin (a real estate firm) asked to transfer her clients to someone else, as her EAD renewal didn’t through on time. Aman was put on extended leave, losing out her family’s health insurance and other benefits.
Renewals That Took Only 90 Days Till 2016, Now Take Almost 6-24 Months
All the work she put in to build trust with her clients in a profession which is personality driven, came to a standstill. This was the frustration,” shares her husband Ripan Shergill, adding, “Aman’s renewal came through in October but she is behind in her career for no fault of hers. Just 25 days of no permission to work made her go behind by 6-7 months.”
This is the story of hundreds of thousands of Indian American immigrant families in USA, who not only are in the decades-long green card queue, but also suffer numerous, long, demoralising breaks in their careers.
The employment permits granted by the Obama administration to those H-4 visa holders who have an approved green card petition, although not rescinded by the ‘America for Americans’ Trump administration, enough delays were inserted to thwart timely renewals – renewals that took only 90 days till 2016, now take anytime between 6-24 months.
The Shergill v Mayorkas lawsuit firmed up after Ripan responded to a Twitter post, helping connect the Shergill family to other plaintiffs.
"I saw a post from Jon Banias (of Wasden Banias law firm) on Twitter about standalone H4 renewal delays. My office lawyers were also chasing the application but nothing came along. This was not acceptable. If you have the status and the law gives you authorisation to work, no one has the right to make you quit your job."Ripan Shergill
How Aman Shergill Became the Lead Plaintiff in the Lawsuit
With this motto, a class action lawsuit was filed by law firm Wasden Banias, attorney Steven Brown from Reddy Neumann PC, attorney Kripa Upadhyay of Orbit Law, along with American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA), on 21 September at a federal district court in Washington state, where the Shergills reside. Aman Shergill became the lead plaintiff in the class action lawsuit because her strong case best represented the group of 15 plaintiffs.
The couple were jubilant when they discovered via Twitter that USCIS had decided to settle the case.
"It was all over Twitter! I put in our plaintiffs’ WhatsApp group. Jon (attorney) convened a zoom call and he said that USCIS wants to settle. It was all over news, all the big publications carried it! We all have been able to help a lot of people, especially from India, as they had to wait for 20-24 months sometimes for renewals, and travel to India to get their visas stamped."Ripan Shergill
'This Will Stay in History Books'
Ripan is employed by Amazon in Seattle. He studied engineering followed by an MBA from Punjab University, and is the son of a former Indian intelligence bureau officer. His father, who pushed Ripan to study law as he wished for him to become an IAS officer, is a proud ‘Shergill’ parent today.
"It’s more special as my father pushed me towards law. My father commented with joy that it was the law that I studied in Punjab University that has come to help here! My parents live in Texas. They felt great that we are a part of something that solves a big problem. It has far-reaching benefits. This will stay in history books etched for anyone who will study USA law."Ripan Shergill
The plaintiffs in the Shergill et al v Mayorkas lawsuit argued that L-2 visa holders do not need any EAD to work in the first place according to US statute. The second argument was that DHS was unlawfully withholding the automatic extension of H-4EAD. In a settlement reached between Department of Homeland Security and the plaintiffs, both the points put forth by the plaintiffs were fulfilled.
'It Was a Correction That Was Long Overdue'
The couples’ friends and colleagues celebrated the positive outcome of the Shergill v Mayorkas settlement, shares Ripan, “Within Amazon we have an internal publishing board. Everyone in Amazon was able to see what the case is and they contacted Aman with messages like - Hey Aman, great job!”
Aman adds, “Our family and friends congratulated us. I meet many people including some of my clients who are in the same boat, with similar experiences. It means a lot to them. It was a correction that was long overdue.”
Amandeep and Ripanjit Shergill are in their 40s, and live in the Seattle area with their two children. They moved to US from Canada six years back and look forward to further immigration reform in USA.
(Savita Patel is a senior journalist and producer, who produced ‘Worldview India’, a weekly international affairs show, and produced ‘Across Seven Seas’, a diaspora show, both with World Report, aired on DD. She has also covered stories for Voice of America TV from California. She’s currently based in the San Francisco Bay Area. She tweets @SsavitaPatel.)