Where an applicant alleged the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, or USCIS, was arbitrary and capricious when it allegedly delayed and ultimately denied her applications, the agency was granted summary judgment. Its decisions bore a “rational connection” to the facts found in the administrative record.
This case involves the adjudication by USCIS of Lavanya Viswanathan Iyer’s applications to change her status to an education-based nonimmigration student status called “F-1” and for optional practical training, or OPT, work authorization. Following USCIS’ denials of her applications, plaintiff brought the instant action, seeking judicial review under the Administrative Procedure Act, or APA. Both parties have filed motions for summary judgment.
Plaintiff maintains that defendants unlawfully withheld decisions on her I-539 and OPT applications. But the APA section she cites applies only when “an agency failed to take a discrete agency action that it is required to take.” There is nothing to compel here.
It is undisputed that USCIS has already issued a decision on both applications at issue in this case. And § 706(1) of the APA does not authorize a court to undo an agency action on the basis of a purportedly unreasonable delay. Accordingly, plaintiff’s request for relief under § 706(1) is moot.
Plaintiff argues that USCIS took an unreasonably long time to adjudicate her I-539 application and that her application was arbitrarily denied due to the happenstance of USCIS only getting around to processing her I-539 application after she had already graduated. Plaintiff points to USCIS’ public statement that the agency takes just 30.5 minutes to adjudicate a Form I-539. Nonetheless, plaintiff explains, USCIS issued her a request for evidence, or RFE, more than 14 months after she had filed her I-539 application and then took another month to issue a decision on her I-539 application.
At the outset, the court notes that other federal district courts have rejected similar arguments, finding that “knowing how many ‘adjudication hours’ are required to ‘adjudicate’ a visa tells the court nothing about the length of a queue or what is a reasonable processing time ….” This argument is further undermined by the fact that USCIS was faced with a severe backlog of immigration-related applications during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic when plaintiff applied.
Thus, while USCIS’ delay is troubling, the court is hesitant to condemn USCIS’ choice of priorities. And plaintiff’s failure to submit her I-539 application in the time that USCIS makes its advisement further counsels against a finding that the agency’s adjudication timing was unreasonable.
Plaintiff also asserts that USCIS’ delayed adjudications of I-539 applications like hers “would allow USCIS to unilaterally put OPT out of reach of many applicants for whom it was intended.” But plaintiff does not allege that USCIS stopped adjudicating F-1 applications altogether during the relevant period. Nor does plaintiff provide any evidence beyond mere speculation regarding the potential wider effects of USCIS’ timing. Ultimately, this court finds that USCIS’ decision to deny plaintiff’s I-539 application, at a minimum, bears a “rational connection” to the facts found in the administrative record. Accordingly, the court declines to vacate USCIS’ denial of plaintiff’s I-539 application.
Plaintiff next contends that USCIS’ decision to deny her I-765 application was arbitrary and capricious because the agency failed to follow its parent agency’s guidance and treated her differently than other like applicants. The court finds that the agency properly abided by relevant Department of Homeland Security regulations and guidance.
Specifically, 8 C.F.R. § 103.2(b)(8)(iii) provides USCIS with the discretion to either issue an RFE or deny an application where that application does not establish eligibility at the time of filing. The wording of the guidance cited by plaintiff underscores this significant discretion afforded to USCIS. Accordingly, USCIS’ decision to deny plaintiff’s I-765 application was rationally based on legal authority.
Plaintiff further argues that USCIS’ denial was arbitrary and capricious in that the agency did not provide her with an accommodation that it has regularly provided other applicants—namely, issuing an RFE and suspending processing of the I-765 application until USCIS renders a decision on the underlying I-539 application. Plaintiff’s comparison falls far short of establishing that USCIS’ treatment of her application was arbitrary.
Plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment denied. Defendants’ motion for summary judgment granted.
Iyer v. United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, Case No. 1:22-cv-254, Feb. 17, 2023. EDVA at Alexandria (Alston). VLW 023-3-077. 16 pp.