In preparing for today’s TEMS, Big Hollywood’s Adam Baldwin asked me to look into the curious case of Anatolie Vartosu.  Despite having launched a successful business and being invited here to compete in athletic competitions, the State Department declined to approve an extension of his H1B visa.  It seems that Vartosu may have been a little too successful, and State didn’t want him to stick around:

Anatolie was invited to the United States in 2003 to compete in the Clearwater, Florida Marathon. He went on to win many races in the US, including the inaugural Little Rock Arkansas marathon in May, 2003. He successfully upgraded his tourist visa to a 3-year H1B working visa, to accept a job offer teaching gymnastics and soccer at a professional sports center at the Jack Rabbit’s Professional Gymnastic Club in Greenwich, Connecticut. Due to Anatolie’s enormous popularity, professionalism and effective teaching methods, enrollment skyrocketed from 80 students to over 450.

In 2006 Anatolie applied for what should have been a routine renewal of his H1B working visa for another three-year term. While the maximum standard answer time is 180 days, he waited over 18 months—which included numerous letters of support, including several from Congressman Christopher Shays—to receive the shocking answer: denied. Reason given? “overqualified” for his job—in spite of being granted his initial H1B working visa for the exact same position 3 years previously. Anatolie immediately appealed the denial and was told he would receive an answer within a maximum of 10 months. 14 months later he received the final decision regarding his appeal: dismissed—with no explanation and no right to further appeal.

To compound matters, Anatolie’s wife Maria, who is also from Romania, joined him in America in 2003. In 2007 she opened Shiny Little Stars, a Childcare Discovery Center with a partner. A highly successful, growing asset to the local community, it PROVIDES JOBS and receives glowing testimonials from its customers—parents and their delighted 2 to 5 year olds. Maria would also be forced to abandon her business and leave the country if Anatolie’s appeal is denied, as her status is dependent on his. His 6-year campaign for permanent residency in the US is at a desperate point. If justice fails him now, he and his wife will be forced to leave America for good.

There are, of course, a lot of variables in the visa process. After 9/11, Congress mandated that State tighten up its visa procedures, including better tracking of those who overstay their limit.  No one objects to that kind of enforcement, least of all conservatives.

However, as Bill Whittle wrote this summer, arbitrary and capricious denials undermine efforts to channel immigration through legal channels:

The biggest losers in our inability to control illegal immigration are the legal immigrants.  What benefit do these honest people gain from playing by the rules? This is as clear a real-world example as you are likely to see of the lack of retaliation flipping a system from cooperation to betrayal.

Pam Meister knows the Vartosus, and gives more background:

When he and his employers went to file a renewal of the H-1B visa, Anatolie was told he had to wait until October of that year. In addition, he was told he needed more documentation to justify a renewal. Once the additional information was filed in October, the 60 days he was told to wait turned into six months. After placing a call to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) in April of 2007, he was told to file the I-129 (an internal status inquiry), and was given yet another 60 days to wait.

Upon hearing nothing after the 60 days, John Schwartz (the other owner of Jack Rabbits) was told to file yet another I-129 and also set up an appointment with an immigration officer in Hartford, which he did. He and Anatolie arrived, dressed in their best and full of plans to plead their case with a folder bursting with newspaper articles about Anatolie, photos of him with the children he coached, and testimonials from parents and other gymnastics professionals. The shocker was when they discovered that the point of the interview was simply to find out what they already knew: Anatolie’s case was still pending. When Schwartz asked the immigration officer why they were sent to see her, he was told: “They don’t know what they are talking about up there.” (She was referring to the customer service department of USCIS.)

Then, after over a year of waiting, Anatolie found out that his renewal had finally been processed – but was denied in a letter dated July 9th. Despite letters from other gyms and USA Gymnastics (USAG) (formerly known as the United States Gymnastics Federation) supporting Anatolie’s petition, the denial was based partly on “the petitioner’s assertion that the duties and/or knowledge required for a gymnastics coach who trains children as young as one year old up to five years old is equally specialized and complex” as coaches who train world-class athletes – an assertion with which the USCIS did not agree.

Schwartz explains:

“They’re saying that since we’re not a high-level gym, we don’t need someone with his expertise. But my point is, we are building our program up to an elite level, and so we do need his expertise. Frankly, it’s difficult to find qualified instructors. And since we are a USAG-member gym, qualified instructors are essential.”

This sounds more like a bureaucratic snafu rather than any kind of malice towards the Vartosus, but that’s hardly comforting if he gets deported and his wife loses her business.  Hopefully, someone can intervene to bring some common sense to this situation, and encourage a family which is obviously contributing positively to the American experience to remain in the country.

The link above has a petition to sign to push the State Department to reconsider its position, left over from the Bush administration.  Maybe that will help Vartosu get across the finish line, and keep him from being punished for following the rules and being successful.