WASHINGTON (CN) – Foreign-exchange students traveling to the United States for unpaid internships cannot obtain the necessary Q-1 visas, a federal judge ruled.
After the Department of Homeland Security, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, and the director of the Vermont Services Center shot down the petitions, International Internship Programs filed suit. The complaint claimed that the agencies violated the Administrative Procedure Act and the Regulatory Flexibility Act in denying the visa petitions.
“Unfortunately for the plaintiff, I agree with the defendants,” U.S. District Judge Richard Leon wrote, finding that International Internship Programs failed to state a claim under the Regulatory Flexibility Act and that its arguments are moot.
The Vermont Services Center and the USCIS Administrative Appeals Office denied three Q-1 visa petitions submitted by the internship organization based on the fact that organization “did not establish ‘that the [interns] would be performing services consistent with the program during the summer months,'” according to the ruling.
Though the Vermont agency originally approved the petitions for the span of the academic school year, the internship organization took issue with the time limit. The ensuing review resulted in the outright denial of the petitions because the interns wouldn’t receive “wages comparable to those of local domestic workers similarly employed.”
Q-1 visa regulations require employers to pay interns actual wages.
“Plaintiff admits that it considers the cultural exchange visitors to be unpaid volunteers … and argues that the most comparable local domestic workers are unpaid interns or AmeriCorps volunteers,” Leon wrote. “However, the [Administrative Appeals Office], relying on the Department of Labor’s Occupational Outlook Handbook, found the cultural exchange visitors’ responsibilities to be comparable to teacher assistants, requiring equivalent wages.”
International Internship Programs is a nonprofit organization that sponsors the cultural exchange programs. According to the ruling, it brings visitors from Japan, Korea, Thailand and China the America to work in primary, secondary and other education institutions where they teach American students the customs and heritage of their home country. The program typically lasts for an academic semester and the participants pay between $5,400 and $8,600 to participate. Interns do not receive any payment for their work, but the program gives them a $100 monthly stipend for incidentals. Host families receive $200 for providing them with room and board.
Q-1 visas were introduced as part of the Immigration Act of 1990, and are intended for international cultural exchange programs, but the regulations require that exchange participates must be paid.
“Because USCIS reasonably construed the Q-1 rule and regulations, and because plaintiff offers no persuasive legal explanation to show how USCIS’s interpretations of the regulations are not reasonable, the court finds that USCIS’s denials of plaintiff’s Q-1 visa petitions were not contrary to law, arbitrary and capricious, contrary to constitutional right and privilege, or unsupported by substantial evidence,” Leon wrote, denying the nonprofit’s cross-motion for summary judgment.