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Immigration Law

Expert: Houston Chef Hits Trump's "Invisible Wall"

Gabrielle Banks, Houston Chronicle, Jan. 7, 2021

"Every day Chef Sanjay Kumar Kashyap whipped up 30 fresh recipes for a vegetarian Thali-style Indian restaurant in southwest Houston. In a month, he prepared a whopping 900 different curries, dals, paneers, chutneys, flatbreads, desert dumplings and delicacies at the storefront eatery that prides itself on starting from scratch. That was the executive chef’s arduous routine before immigration officials denied his visa extension in December, saying Kashyap’s job at Maharaja Bhog did not require specialized knowledge. Lawyers for the restaurant and chef diced up that conclusion in a federal lawsuit this week, calling the government’s decision “arbitrary and capricious” since the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services had already determined that Kashyap absolutely did have unique skills. The Mumbai-based global hospitality company received official approval in 2017 to transfer him to its Houston subsidiary to execute dizzying, encyclopedic menus — minus the recipes — after he’d completed a rigorous one-on-one training over two years, mastering the cooking styles of all 22 Indian states with an emphasis on the northwestern states of Gujarat and Rajasthan. Kashyap, a 34-year-old from Uttar Pradesh, is now barred from working in the restaurant and faces the prospect of detention and deportation. ... The policy shift can be traced to a 2017 memo that explicitly states the agency wouldn’t give deference to its own prior decisions: “USCIS is rescinding the policy of requiring officers to defer to prior determinations in petitions for extension of nonimmigrant status,” it said, to protect the interests of U.S. workers. The agency began interpreting “specialized knowledge” more narrowly, said Stephen Yale-Loehr, an immigration law professor at Cornell University. The change was very intentional on the government’s part, he said. “The Trump administration has been unable to build a physical wall along the U.S.-Mexico border but it has effectively built an invisible wall against legal immigration,” Yale-Loehr said. “The endgame is deny, deny, deny or delay, delay, delay.” ... Rejections of visa extensions for these workers have cropped up dozens of times in federal court, Yale-Loehr said. In many cases, the lawsuits are resolved quickly because the knee-jerk rejections are an embarrassment, according to several Houston immigration lawyers."