May 17, 2012 | Volume 42, No.20

Visa, attorney cost for planner at $6,000

The Haines Borough is planning to spend more than $6,000, including $3,650 or more in attorney’s fees, to process a foreign worker visa for Xi “Tracy” Cui, a Chinese national who is the municipality’s choice for planning and zoning technician.

Through March, the borough has paid $3,650 to Lane Powell, a nationwide firm specializing in labor law that’s handling paperwork for the borough. The borough also paid $2,325 in fees to the U.S. Customs and Immigration Service for H1-B visa processing.

The visa requires the borough to demonstrate the job requires a professional in a “specialty occupation,” defined as one that “requires a theoretical and practical application of a body of highly specialized knowledge.”

Cui was chosen over 10 other candidates for the position, which enforces planning and zoning code and serves as staff to the borough planning commission.

Borough manager Mark Earnest this week said he didn’t expect total costs of securing the visa to go much beyond the $5,975 expended to date. “We expect a few hundred dollars more in costs, but the exact amount depends on the federal government bureaucracy,” Earnest said.

Lane Powell has completed the first part of the visa process, approval by the federal Department of Labor of the borough’s labor condition application. The firm also has submitted the required petition for the document. The visa will allow Cui to work here three years, and the borough can seek to renew it an additional three years.

Earnest said he has spoken to Cui recently and that she is still interested in the $47,000 job here. “She is waiting excitedly for the petition to be approved so that she can start working for the Haines Borough,” he said.

Borough spending watchdog Jerry Erny suggested this week that for the same amount of extra consideration, the government may have been able to hire a resident. “We have people who are qualified for this job in our town. Maybe (Cui’s) skills are higher than theirs, but for $6,000, couldn’t we train somebody local?” Erny said.

Borough Mayor Stephanie Scott and planning commission chair Rob Goldberg have defended the hire in recent weeks. Cui is to start work in October.