Worker visas in doubt as Trump immigration crackdown widens

NEW YORK — Immigrants with specialized skills are being denied work visas or seeing applications get caught up in lengthy bureaucratic tangles under federal changes that some consider a contradiction to President Donald Trump’s promise of a continued pathway to the U.S. for the most talented foreigners.Though getting what’s known as an H-1B visa has never been a sure thing, immigration attorneys and employers who hire such workers say they’ve seen unprecedented disruptions in the approval process since Trump took office in 2017.“You see all these arguments that we want the best and the brightest coming here,” said John Goslow, an immigration attorney in Ann Arbor, Michigan. “Yet we’re seeing a full-frontal assault on just all aspects of immigration.”For American businesses, it has a bottom-line impact.Link Wilson, an architect who co-founded a firm in Bloomington, Minnesota, said finding enough qualified workers within the U.S. has been a problem for years, in part due to a shortage of architects. He said employers who turn to international applicants do so as a last resort, putting up with legal fees and ever-expanding visa approval times because they have no other choice.“We’re just at the point where there’s no one else to hire,” said Wilson, who estimates his firm turned away about $1 million in projects last year because it didn’t have enough staff to handle them.Three months after taking office, Trump issued his “Buy American and Hire American” executive order , calling for H-1B changes to promote the hiring of Americans for jobs that might otherwise go to immigrants.Subsequent memos have allowed for greater discretion in denying applications without first requesting additional information from an applicant, tossed the deference given to people seeking to renew their H-1Bs, and raised concern that the government would revoke work permits for the spouses of H-1B holders. One order restricted companies’ ability to use H-1B workers off-site at a customer’s place of business, while another temporarily rescinded the option of paying for faster application processing.Attorneys who handle these applications say one of the biggest shifts is an increase in “requests for evidence,” or RFEs, from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. An RFE can delay a visa for months or longer as applicants and employers are forced to submit additional documentation over things such as the applicability of a college degree to a prospective job or whether the wage being offered is appropriate. If the responses are unsatisfactory, a visa may be denied.“They’re just blocking the avenues so that employers will get frustrated and they won’t employ foreign nationals,” said Dakshini Sen, an immigration lawyer in Houston whose caseload is mostly H-1B applications. “We have to write and write and write and explain and explain and explain each and every point.”USCIS data released on Friday shows an increase in the number of completed H-1B applications receiving an RFE, from about 21 per cent in the 2016 fiscal year to 38 per cent last fiscal year. The number continued to rise in the first quarter of this fiscal year, to 60 per cent.A growing number of applications with such requests were ultimately denied, while the approval rate among all applicants has fallen. Approvals also dipped in two other visa programs for foreign workers, including one for individuals with extraordinary abilities in areas such as science, sports and the arts.Jessica Collins, a spokeswoman for USCIS, linked the changes to the president’s executive order, saying the goal was to reduce “frivolous” petitions and that “it is incumbent upon the petitioner, not the government” to prove eligibility.Some employers note traditional three-year renewable terms of H-1Bs have also been changing; one lawsuit by an organization representing information technology companies claims some visas were valid for only a few days or had expired before they were even received.Trump has vacillated between criticizing H-1Bs as “substituting for American workers at lower pay” to expressing support, as he did last month, when he said he wanted to “encourage talented and highly skilled people to pursue career options in the U.S.”Caught in the crosshairs are workers like Leo Wang.Wang, 32, got into the University of Southern California, interned at a major venture capital firm and wasted no time after finishing his master’s before starting on another degree. His dream of a six-figure Silicon Valley job came true but disappeared quickly.Wang was working at Seagate Technology under an immigration provision known as Optional Practical Training, which gives those on student visas permission to work. But that expired last year, and because his H-1B application was in flux, he was forced to take a leave from Seagate and withdraw from the master’s program he was pursuing at Berkeley.He says he and his company dutifully responded to an RFE, compiling examples of his work at Seagate. But on Jan. 11, Wang got a final answer: He was denied an H-1B.This month, he returned to his native China.“I still believe in the American dream,” he says. “It’s just that I personally have to pursue it somewhere else.”___Sedensky can be reached at msedensky@ap.org or https://twitter.com/sedenskyMatt Sedensky, The Associated Press read more

Telescope viewing suspended as protesters block Hawaii road

HONOLULU — Astronomers have indefinitely stopped looking through 13 existing telescopes at the summit of Mauna Kea in Hawaii while protesters block the road downslope in an attempt to prevent the construction of a giant new observatory.Dozens of researches around the world won’t be able to gather data and study the skies as a result of the move. Observations won’t resume until staff have consistent access to the summit, said Jessica Dempsey, the deputy director of the East Asian Observatory, one of the existing telescopes.The announcement came as Native Hawaiian protesters blocked the base of the road for a second day on Tuesday. They object to the construction of the $1.4 billion Thirty Meter Telescope, which is expected to be one of the world’s most advanced when it’s built, out of concern it will further harm an area some Native Hawaiians consider sacred.Hawaii authorities haven’t arrested any protesters, though have indicated they would. Jason Redulla, chief of the state Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement, said law enforcement was focused on preparing a path to construction on Tuesday.Jessica Dempsey, the deputy director of the East Asian Observatory, said consistent access to summit is needed to ensure the safety of staff. She said researchers would understand the need for suspension.“Our science time is precious but in this case, our priority is just to make sure all of our staff is safe,” Dempsey said.The East Asian Observatory was scheduled to study carbon monoxide clouds in star-forming regions inside the Milky Way galaxy on Tuesday night. Dempsey called the clouds “the DNA of how baby stars form” and said they help astronomers figure out how stars work.Protesters said they told law enforcement they would allow telescope technicians to pass so long as they would be allowed to drive one car to the summit each day for cultural and religious practices. They said they wouldn’t allow National Guard members to pass.No agreement was reached between the two sides.“We are at a standstill,” said Kaho’okahi Kanuha, one of the protest leaders.He told reporters that efforts to stop the Thirty Meter Telescope were about protecting the indigenous people of Hawaii.“This is about our right to exist,” he said. “The way our kupuna existed,” he said, using the Hawaiian word for elder.“We fight and resist and we stand, or we disappear forever,” he said.Gov. David Ige announced plans last week to close the summit access road on Monday to allow construction to begin. The decision attracted hundreds of protesters to the site, who formed their own road blocks.Other Native Hawaiians say they don’t believe the Thirty Meter Telescope will desecrate Mauna Kea. Most of the cultural practices on the mountain take place away from the summit, said Annette Reyes, a Native Hawaiian from the Big Island.“It’s going to be out of sight, out of mind,” she said.Reyes said there are many others like her, but they’re reluctant to publicly support the telescope because of bullying from protesters, a group she calls a “vocal minority.” She says she’s been called a fake Hawaiian for supporting the project.Reyes said Hawaii’s young people can’t afford to miss out on the educational opportunities, citing telescope officials’ pledge to provide $1 million every year of the 19-year Mauna Kea sublease to boost science, technology, engineering and math education.She challenged the characterization of the dispute as a clash between science and culture.Science was an integral part of ancient Hawaiian lives, Reyes said. “Everything they did was science, from growing fish and taro to wayfinding.”The Thirty Meter Telescope’s primary mirror would measure 98 feet (30 metres) in diameter. It would be three times as wide as the world’s largest existing visible-light telescope, with nine times more area.The company behind the telescope is made up of a group of universities in California and Canada, with partners from China, India and Japan.The project has been delayed by years of legal battles and demonstrations. Last year, the Hawaii Supreme Court ruled the group had legally obtained a permit for the project, clearing the way for construction to begin.Telescope opponents last week filed another petition in court, saying the project must post a security bond equivalent to the construction contract cost before starting to build.Doug Ing, an attorney for the Thirty Meter Telescope, said this latest lawsuit has no merit and is just another delay tactic.The summit of Mauna Kea, Hawaii’s tallest peak, is one of world’s best spots for astronomy because it has clear weather for most of the year and has minimal light pollution.Jennifer Sinco Kelleher And Audrey McAvoy, The Associated Press read more