U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), who also serves as Ranking Member of the Senate Judiciary Committee sent a letter Monday to the State and Homeland Security departments, raising questions about Boeing's use of B-1 visas to bring Russian contract engineers into the country.
In the letter, Grassley cited an incident in October 2011, when 18 Russian contract engineers with B-1 visas were turned away at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport by agents of Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and sent back to Moscow.
Senator Grassley said he was "dismayed" to read a recent report that Boeing has resumed bringing in Russian contract engineers and that some 250 have come since the October incident.
The B-1 visa is for visitors coming to the U.S. on short-term business trips. Holders may engage in training and liason activities but aren't allowed to work directly for a U.S. company.
Senator Grassley asked whether Homeland Security will do an on-site audit of Boeing's practices with regard to visas and the employment eligibility of those it invites to the U.S.
"To date, nothing on this issue has been done," Grassley wrote, referring to letters he received last year from Secretaries Clinton and Napolitano responding to him, which said that the State Department was working with Homeland Security on "removing or substantially amending" a policy that lets business visitors under certain circumstances enter on B-1 visas rather than H-1B non-immigrant work visas.
In his recent letter, Senator Grassley asked the two departments for data on how many B-1 visas Boeing applied for in the past five years, and how many previous U.S. trips the 18 engineers turned back in October had made for Boeing.
Grassley asked the State Department if CBP officers were properly trained on how to handle B-1 visa entrants, and whether consular officials overseas are trained in how to detect fraud by B-1 applicants.
The Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace (SPEEA), the white-collar union at Boeing, has expressed concern both to Boeing and the State Department about the practice, which it sees as taking work away from its members.
Boeing said in a statement it resumed invitations to Russian engineers to travel here on B-1 visas after discussions with CBP and an internal review of its processes for issuing the invitations.
Read the full story in The Seattle Times.