The pinnacle chef of Houston’s Maharaja Bhog rejected the renewal of the visa amid Trump’s “invisible wall”.
Each day, head chef Sanjay Kumar Kashyap conjured up 30 fresh recipes for a thali-style vegetarian Indian restaurant in southwest Houston. In one month, he prepared a whopping 900 different curries, dals, paneers, chutneys, flatbreads, desert dumplings and delicacies in the store that is proud to start over.
This was the chef’s tedious routine before immigration officials refused his visa extensions in December, saying Kashyap’s work at Maharaja Bhog did not require any expertise. The restaurant and chef’s attorneys tied that conclusion in a federal lawsuit earlier this week, calling the government’s decision “arbitrary and capricious” as the US citizenship and immigration authorities had already established that Kashyap absolutely had unique skills disposes. The Mumbai-based global hotel company received official approval in 2017 to transfer him to its Houston subsidiary to perform dizzying, encyclopedic menus – minus the recipes – after completing two years of rigorous one-on-one training in which he mastered cooking Styles from all 22 Indian states with a focus on the northwestern states of Gujarat and Rajasthan.
Kashyap, a 34-year-old from Uttar Pradesh, is now barred from working in the restaurant and faces the prospect of detention and deportation.
Kashyap is one of a growing number of authorized non-immigrants who have been granted special work visas and who have later turned down boiler sign language extensions under a set of guidelines the American Immigration Lawyers Association calls Trump’s “invisible wall” has been. According to a study by the Cato Institute on USCIS data, these denials have increased 13 percent since 2016, despite having increased steadily for a decade.
The rejection in the Houston case means Maharaja Bhog, an elegant dining room in a mall between Sharpstown and the Beltway, lost its star chef along with more than $ 250,000 in lapsed lease for a new restaurant location in Dallas. according to court records. Attorneys are seeking an injunction so that Kashyap can continue working and not face deportation while he pursues a legal challenge.
His attorney Merina Shakya of the Quan Law Group said it was likely they would reopen Kashyap’s visa renewal. “You don’t want to go to a judge on a case like this.”
She said it was against her own rules: “They have a policy manual that says you must approve the petition if the employee meets these factors.”
USCIS officials declined to comment on this or any other pending case.
The change to the policy can be traced back to a 2017 memo that specifically stated that the agency would not take into account its own previous decisions: “USCIS is revoking the policy that petitioned officials to renew nonimmigrant status Referring to previous findings, ”said to prioritize and protect the interests of US workers. The agency began to interpret “expertise” more narrowly and restrictively, said Stephen Yale-Loehr, professor of immigration law at Cornell University.
The change was very intentional on the part of the government, he said.
“The Trump administration has not been able to build a physical wall along the US-Mexico border, but it has effectively built an invisible wall against legal immigration,” said Yale-Loehr. “The endgame is deny, deny, deny or delay, delay, delay.”
The L-1B international transfer visa for corporate employees is quite difficult to get because it requires so much verification. In most cases, such visas are issued to individuals with scientific expertise, but sometimes they go to chefs or other professionals whose training goes beyond the academic scholarship, according to lawyers. A well-known federal court challenge involves a Dallas chain vying for visas for Brazilian steakhouse chefs known as churrasqueiros who were trained in the traditional Rio Grande do Su grill style.
Around 10,000 of these visas are issued each year, although there is no limit to how many can qualify. According to the Cato report, the pre-2007 recession number peaked at 84,532.
The refusals of visa extensions for these highly skilled workers have surfaced dozens of times in federal courts, Yale-Loehr said. In many cases, federal judges and U.S. attorneys hired to defend the government are quick to resolve the lawsuits because denial of knee-jerk embarrassment is embarrassing, according to several Houston immigration attorneys familiar with the procedure.
However, it is cumbersome and costly to go to court for a visa refusal.
Magali Suárez Candler, a veteran immigration attorney in Houston who deals with these visas, among other things, said that many colleagues in her field have had to investigate how to sue the government over the past few years as this is a very effective strategy for Combating this refusal by cookie cutters is.
Candler is not involved in the chef’s lawsuit, but after reviewing court documents for the Houston Chronicle, Candler said that Kashyap and the restaurant have a very strong case. The facts that earned him a visa have not changed, the law has not changed, and his company has consistently presented all the evidence to meet all the requirements, she said.
These blanket denials are confusing, she said. They represent a violation of the rights of the company and of the individual, regardless of whether the refusal was malicious or simply a mistake.
“The reality is that these situations arise primarily because USCIS has stopped respecting its previous decisions and treating each extension as if it were a first-time application,” she said.
“People have to jump through the hoops to get the visa, but re-approving it shouldn’t be a big deal. It’s a waste of government and corporate time, ”Candler said. “One wonders, did you make a mistake? Or are they just not looking at it? “
Sunil Srivastava, a native of Rajasthan who owns upscale Indian restaurant Veranda on Kirby, said executing this cuisine requires real skills in understanding spice combinations, textures, temperatures and cooking techniques for each region.
“It takes years for people to make a perfect biriyani and still can’t,” he said.
“You just can’t pick someone up from the street and say do it,” said Srivastava. “It’s not a McDonald’s that you have to turn over burgers, it’s creating a burger, creating a recipe … that requires knowledge.”
Srivastava said USCIS refused a second renewal for a chef who had been with him at another restaurant that had previously qualified for an initial renewal of another specialty visa, H-B1. He compared the loss of the chef who had to leave the country to the loss of an arm.
“This man worked with me for six years, understood the US ingredients and kept Indian tradition alive,” he said. “It costs an organization a lot of money to lose a chef like that.”
But Srivastava took the case to federal court and won. He got his cook back.
“We proved the case because he has the skills,” said Srivastava. “It was tough … what happened to him – there has to be some understanding in this system.”
As for Kashyap’s cuisine, Chronicle restaurant critic Alison Cook, previously named Maharaja Bhog in her Top 100, said the chef is “exactly the kind of person we need here” and denying a visa as a loss to Houston looks at.
“I remember thinking, wow, this was very different for Houston on my first visit to Maharaja Bhog,” she said.
“That’s the kind of thing that keeps a food writer going. The fact that my government is trying to kick out the restaurant’s highly skilled chef is very daunting to me.”
Alison Cook contributed to this story.