12 Austin busi­nesses sue over work visa pro­gram

Plain­tiffs: Feds’ de­nial of re­quests for visas cost com­pa­nies money.

Austin American-Statesman - - BUSINESS - By Ryan Au­tullo rautullo@states­man.com Law­suit Trade

Thirty busi­nesses, in­clud­ing 12 with roots in Austin, are su­ing U.S. Sec­re­tary of Home­land Se­cu­rity John Kelly, claim­ing they have been un­law­fully de­nied ac­cess to the coun­try’s H-2B work visa pro­gram.

The plain­tiffs say they have lost sig­nif­i­cant money and suf­fered dam­age to their rep­u­ta­tions af­ter the fed­eral gov­ern­ment re­fused to ap­prove their re­quests for visas, ac­cord­ing to a law­suit filed Mon­day in fed­eral dis­trict court in Austin.

They have re­quested a tem­po­rary re­strain­ing or­der re­quir­ing the United States Ci­ti­zen­ship and Im­mi­gra­tion Ser­vices to add the 1,065 job op­por­tu­ni­ties the plain­tiffs had sought for work­ers.

The H-2B visa pro­gram al­lows for­eign work­ers to take tem­po­rary U.S. jobs in non-agri­cul­ture in­dus­tries, such as con­struc­tion and land­scap­ing.

The law­suit al­leges that the U.S. gov­ern­ment de­nied the plain­tiffs’ visa re­quests be­cause the H-2B pro­gram had capped out at the 33,000 sea­sonal jobs it ac­cepts ev­ery six months. How­ever, at­tor­neys for the plain­tiff dis­pute those num­bers, claim­ing in the law­suit that 3,197 of those po­si­tions had not been filled as of March 2.

Even if the cap had been reached, they ar­gue, an au­tho­rized cush­ion would have let them ex­ceed it. More­over, the law­suit says the plain­tiffs all have dates of need af­ter April 1, at which time there would be 33,000 new visas avail­able.

The law­suit was filed by Wash­ing­ton-based at­tor­ney Wen­del Hall and Austin at­tor­ney Kevin Lashus and tar­gets Kelly, who took over as Sec­re­tary of Home­land Se­cu­rity un­der Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump. Also named in the suit are the De­part­ment of Home­land Se­cu­rity and USCIS act­ing di­rec­tor Lisa Scial­aba.

The main plain­tiff is Austin-based Euska­dia Inc., a con­struc­tion and land­scap­ing com­pany that says it sub­mit­ted a pe­ti­tion this year to clas­sify 20 job

The U.S. trade deficit jumped in Jan­uary to the high­est level in nearly five years as a flood of mo­bile phones and other con­sumer prod­ucts widened Amer­ica’s trade gap with China. The re­sult un­der­scores the chal­lenges fac­ing Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump in ful­fill­ing a cam­paign pledge to re­duce Amer­ica’s trade deficits.

The deficit in Jan­uary rose 9.6 per­cent to $48.5 bil­lion, up from a De­cem­ber deficit of $44.3 bil­lion, the Com­merce De­part­ment re­ported Tues­day. It was the largest monthly gap since a deficit of $50.2 bil­lion in March 2012.

U.S. ex­ports edged up a slight 0.6 per­cent to $192.1 bil­lion, helped by stronger auto sales. But

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