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Friday, May 17, 2024 | Back issues
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U.S. Has no Room on Its Dance Card for Moldovan

(CN) - A Moldovan ballroom dancer who is merely "very good" failed to show that she deserves a long-term visa as an "alien of extraordinary ability," a federal judge ruled.

Svetlana Visinscaia says she began competing successfully as a ballroom dancer throughout her native Moldova and Eastern Europe at age 11. By 2005, the 15-year-old had won her first and only world championship, and later began teaching dance at a local school.

Though the United States admitted Visinscaia in 2011 on an F-1 visa to attend a Sterling, Va., community college, the dancer sought reclassification the next year as an "alien of extraordinary ability," which would qualify her for a long-term visa.

Federal law prioritizes such candidates over all other employment-based visa applicants, and aliens with such designation do not require evidence of a job offer from an American employer.

Documents Visinscaia produced to demonstrate her consistent success in her field included national and international awards, publications chronicling her achievements, and letters of support from her students and coaches.

The U.S. Customs and Immigration Service (USCIS) nevertheless denied her application after concluding Visinscaia's achievements did not rise to the "extraordinary" level.

When the agency's Administrative Appeals Office affirmed, Visinscaia filed suit in Washington under the Administrative Procedure Act, alleging that the denial had been arbitrary and capricious and an abuse of discretion.

U.S. District Judge James Boasberg credit Visinscaia's "impressive" evidence but ruled for the government Monday on cross-motions for summary judgment.

Customs reasonably found that Visinscaia's 2005 award was not "major," though she said it came from the top dance sport group recognized by the International Olympic Committee.

"First, [Customs] discounted the media coverage of the award, which amounted to one mention in a newspaper whose circulation is unknown (save for a self-promotional letter from the publisher)," Boasberg wrote.

The age limit on the award also shows that it was not major, the ruling states.

"Indeed, if an adult alien were seeking a visa based on his previous world-class performance at pre-teen chess tournaments, USCIS would hardly be arbitrary in determining that such achievement was too limited," Boasberg wrote.

The judge later added: "In short, the agency did precisely what the law requires: using its expertise, it considered whether Visinscaia's award satisfied her burden under the regulations. It concluded that the award was not sufficient. That another decisionmaker might have come to a different conclusion matters little. Unless the court can conclude that no rational adjudicator would have come to the same conclusion - which it cannot do in this case - it must not disturb the agency's decision."

Visinscaia also failed to challenge the denial as "arbitrary" for failing to weight testimonials from other dancers, according to the ruling.

"In short, the agency did give some weight to the letters - just not the weight Visinscaia would prefer," Boasberg wrote. "In these circumstances, the court cannot conclude that the agency's decision was arbitrary."

Visinscaia's evidence did not show that she had served in a leading or critical role as a dance instructor, according to the ruling.

"Despite the court's admittedly thin expertise in the field of competitive ballroom dancing, it has little doubt that Svetlana Visinscaia is a very good ballroom dancer," Boasberg wrote. "But that is a different question from whether USCIS acted arbitrarily when it denied her application for an extraordinary-ability visa. Since the answer to that query is that the agency did not, USCIS must prevail in this matter.

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