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OP-ED CASE STUDY: THE VALUE OF VISAS

In the fall of 2003, the true impact of the Patriot Act began reverberating through the economy of Houston. Although most applauded its strict new controls on immigration, few understood its potential negative repercussions. DPK Public Relations began examining opportunities to establish Pinchak & Associates – a practice concentrating in business immigration law – as an expert in navigating and capitalizing on the law’s finer points.

Research:

Our research consisted of the following:

  • An extensive background meeting with Ann Pinchak, the firm’s principal, to uncover her point of view;
  • A systematic examination of media coverage of the Patriot Act and its impact on the economy;
  • An exhaustive Internet search, including reviews of the Web sites of the U.S. State Department, the National Academy of Sciences and the American Immigration Lawyers Association, among others.

Our research indicated that no person or organization had stepped forward as a strong voice on behalf of immigrants or employers. We determined that Pinchak had an opportunity to step forward to assume that advocate role.

Planning:

  • Objective - To secure positive media coverage in Houston that portrays Ann Pinchak as a strong presence in the discussions surrounding immigration law.
  • Audiences - Houston business leaders with an emphasis on large, international companies and the healthcare community.
  • Strategies - Position Ann Pinchak as an outspoken advocate for Houston businesses – particularly those in the healthcare and scientific arenas – that depend on international talent and are adversely effected by the Patriot Act.
  • Tactics - We established a “rapid response” approach to capitalize on news coverage regarding the Patriot Act. On Friday, October 3, The Houston Chronicle featured the story of how Dr. Remzi Bag, the head of Houston’s two lung transplant programs, had struggled to avoid deportation. We determined this was an opportunity for Pinchak. By the end of that day, the initial draft of the op-ed was delivered to Pinchak for her input. We worked together through the weekend and, by 11 a.m. on Monday, October 6, we submitted the op-ed. Subsequent discussions with the editorial page editor indicated that the op-ed would be held for publication in the Sunday edition on October 12.

Implementation:

Following is the op-ed submitted to the Houston Chronicle:

"Houston Deserves the Best In the World"

By Ann Pinchak

Every day it gets clearer that the Houston economy has become highly reliant upon talented workers from abroad. That’s why the Bureau of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services is putting every Houstonian at risk by effectively insulating us from the rest of the world.

For Houston to continue to thrive and realize its destiny as a world-class city, we need to implement an effective and timely visa screening procedures for foreign workers – scientists, engineers, and medical researchers. We need a procedure that allows our community’s employers to continue strengthening the health of science and technology sectors while also protecting our nation''s security.

To do that, Immigration officials must recognize that the long-term security of the United States does not only depend upon denying visas to prevent terror attacks. Our security and the future of our community depends on admitting highly skilled workers and scholars who offer significant contributions to our quality of life.

The fact is that often, the best job candidates in the world are discovered beyond U.S. borders. These exceptional men and women are hard at work across Houston everyday, saving lives, advancing science and pushing the envelope on technology.
Houston is a better place because of its foreign workers.

But our community’s mutually beneficial relationship with the global economy is at risk. The case of Dr. Remzi Bag, profiled in The Houston Chronicle (“Last-minute pleas save visa of top doctor,” October 3, 2003) is just one of many jaw-dropping examples of bureaucratic mismanagement that fails to recognize the value we all derive from the international community.

As Mr. Bag’s story demonstrates, the government’s overly conservative approach to reviewing special 0-1 visas endanger Houston’s medical institutions and, by extension, the health and welfare of all Houstonians. Strapped by funding cuts for research, our medical community must continue to have access to the world’s top scientists. These institutions self-screen and do not file cases for O-1 extraordinary ability classification unless they feel medical researchers meet the standards. 

While the Immigration Service has claimed it has not changed its standards for O-1 petitions, those who file these cases at the Texas Service Center know there has been dramatic, sudden increase in denials of extensions for physicians previously granted the classification. The Service is overzealously misinterpreting the criteria for the O-1 category.

Any objective observer can see that this is protectionism run amok. The law requires the foreign national have either an internationally recognized award, such as the Nobel Prize, or show documentation of three of eight lesser criteria such as published articles in professional journals or employment in a critical role at a distinguished organization. Contrary to the plain language of the regulations, the Service has toughened standards to require the three alternative criteria to be at the heightened Nobel Prize level.

This threatens our medical institutions’ ability to find ways to cure diseases from cancer to AIDS.

Another troubling example of how protectionism is threatening Houston is what happened in the days and weeks leading up to last year’s World Space Congress here. According to Lois Peterson with the National Academy of Sciences, she received 102 requests for help from space scientists unable to attend the event because they had not received their visas.

She was quoted in the publication Geotimes as saying, “I remember one of the Indian space scientist in his pleas to us said, ‘I don’t work with missiles; I work with weather balloons.’”

It might be humorous if the situation wasn’t so serious.

The Chinese delegation said in interviews that they were enraged by the situation. Aviation Week & Space Technology reported that it could threaten U.S. space cooperation. The International Astronautical Federation and the Committee on Space Research, which organized the World Space Congress, said denying the Chinese visas undermined the free exchange of ideas promised at the meeting.

Today’s borderless, global economy requires Houston’s employers to attract and retain the best workers in the world. It’s time for the Bureau of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and the U.S. State Department to stop unnecessarily delaying and denying visas to people who should be celebrated among our most valuable resources.

We need a visa screening procedure that is both vigilant and time sensitive. We need to balance the twin goals of maintaining the health of our economy, science and technology while protecting our nation''s security.

Our community depends on foreign scientists and engineers as well as international workers who are on the leading edge of emerging technologies from deep-sea exploration to biomedical research. Houston deserves the very best in the world.

Ann Pinchak, principal of Houston-based Pinchak & Associates (www.apimmigration.com), concentrates her practice in business immigration law and is a member of the American Immigration Lawyers Association.

Evaluation/Measurement:

By earning publication of the op-ed in The Houston Chronicle on Sunday, October 12, we succeeded in securing positive media coverage in Houston that portrayed Ann Pinchak as a strong presence in the discussions surrounding immigration law. The circulation of the Sunday Houston Chronicle is 740,000 and did an effective job of reaching our core target of Houston business leaders with an emphasis on large, international companies and the healthcare community. As a direct result of the op-ed, Pinchak has been interviewed repeatedly on immigration issues in subsequent print and broadcast stories.

Dan Keeney
(832) 467-2904
(832) 467-2909
Author: Dan Keeney
Phone: (832) 467-2904
Fax: (832) 467-2909
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