A district court in Washington on Wednesday declined to curtail the United States administration from temporarily suspending H1-B visa, sought by tens of thousands of Indian citizens every year, Business Standard reported.

US President Donald Trump signed an executive order to suspend several categories of foreign work visas on June 23, including the H-1B visa, till the end of 2020. Trump’s decision came amid a sharp increase in the unemployment rate in the country due to the coronavirus pandemic.

District Judge Amit P Mehta observed that since the ban on visas still exists and the lawsuit challenging the order was pending, an order requiring the US Department of State to nonetheless process the visa requests “would be an exercise in futility”.

The court was hearing a plea filed by a group of 169 Indian nationals who recently visited India after living in the US on work visas, but are unable to go back. They argued that the president’s order was “arbitrary and capricious” and called for the government to process their visa applications.

The US Chamber of Commerce and several trade associations had also filed a separate lawsuit challenging the ban. That lawsuit is pending before a California federal court.

More than 50 US companies including Microsoft, Amazon and Facebook have also filed briefs supporting lawsuits challenging this visa ban. The companies claimed the visa restrictions would hurt American business rather than save jobs in the country.

What does the executive order do?

Under the ban, which came into effect on June 24 and lasts till the end of the year, the United States has suspended a number of employment visas including the coveted H-1B for highly skilled workers, among others.

This means no new H-1B visas will be issued at least until the end of 2020.

The order also suspends new applicants on the H-4 visa, for spouses of H-1B holders, and prevents multinational companies from moving their employees to US offices through the L visas. Besides these, the order suspends immigration under the J-1 visa for educational and cultural exchanges, and temporary workers in non-agricultural industries on H-2B visas.

The order will not affect those who are already in the US on H-1B and other visas or those who are outside the country but already have valid visas. It also provides for exemptions for health-care workers as well as those who work in the food supply chain.

However, on August 13, the Trump administration made some relaxations in the rules for H-1B work visas and said it would allow visa holders to enter the country if they were returning to the same jobs they had prior to the ban. The US State Department said this was done as “forcing employers to replace employees in this situation may cause financial hardship”.

The administration also allowed entry to technical specialists, senior-level managers, and other workers whose travel is necessary to facilitate the immediate and continued economic recovery of the United States.