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Airport Turns Away Japanese Workers

February 10, 2000

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) _ Some Japanese technical workers brought overseas by Oregon and Washington companies are being turned back by immigration officials at Portland International Airport.

In a letter to Immigration and Naturalization Commissioner Doris Meissner, Sen. Slade Gorton, R-Wash., wrote that several companies had complained about business visitors being denied entry to the country for no apparent reason.

The same passengers were able to enter through different airports without trouble, he said.

``The problem has escalated to the point that travel agents and businesses within Japan are now counseling travelers to avoid entrance through PDX,″ Gorton wrote.

According to INS port director John O’Brien, about 100 foreign workers, most of them Japanese, were denied entry at the Portland airport last year.

Typically, they were cases of improper visas, O’Brien said. Some companies may try to skip weeks of waiting for proper entry permits by using B-1 visas, which are awarded more quickly but are limited to people attending business meetings and not participating in actual labor, he said.

``There are people in the United States who are unemployed or underemployed who would like to get a job with one of these companies,″ O’Brien said Wednesday. ``The Immigration Service is trying to protect American jobs for American citizens.″

``The law that Congress passed is the same nationwide,″ he said.

But Gorton said immigration authorities in Portland may be using too strict an interpretation of the law.

Concerns about the airport already have resulted in the cancellation of a regularly scheduled flight by Delta, the gateway carrier serving Japan out of Portland, he said.

Sanae Conner of Shokookai, a Japanese business association based in Portland, said she knows of at least 10 incidents in the past year where high-ranking Japanese managers or engineers who were coming to work temporarily were denied entry at the airport and sent back to Japan.

``It is very, very embarrassing for these companies,″ she said.

On Wednesday, a bill was introduced in the U.S. Senate that would substantially increase the number of visas available for college-educated foreigners to address what the high-tech industry considers an acute worker shortage.

The measure, sponsored by two dozen senators, aims to increase the number of six-year visas from 115,000 to 195,000 for each of the next three years. The National Academy of Sciences is studying how many visas should be issued permanently.

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