Hearing on training program suspended

Newspapers want access to proceeding on use of foreign hotel workers


WASHINGTON - An appeal hearing before a U.S. State Department panel into whether a South Carolina company can continue to import foreign students and place them in low-level jobs in the hotel and tourism industry was put on hold yesterday by an agreement endorsed by a federal judge.

Under an order signed by U.S. District Judge Ellen Segal Huvelle the appeal hearing cannot resume before June 18.

The action came in a lawsuit filed by The Sun and the Orlando Sentinel. The newspapers are seeking access to the closed hearing, arguing that there is a "substantial public interest" in the proceeding.

American Hospitality Academy of Hilton Head, S.C., is appealing the revocation of the company's status as a sponsor under the J-1 visa program.

After a lengthy investigation, the State Department concluded that by placing students in "unskilled positions" AHA's "program does not meet the regulatory requirements of a bona fide exchange visitor program."

The newspapers reported last month that the company had charged fees of up to $1,000 per student and brought about 2,000 students to the United States since 1997, promising them management training but placing them in jobs such as working cash registers or scraping goose dung off docks that paid the equivalent of $1.67 an hour.

Lawyers for the newspapers and the government agreed to the delay in the appeal hearing and to a schedule that will allow the judge to reach a decision by the June 18 deadline.

AHA presented the first of its witnesses Tuesday and an additional two days of testimony are expected.

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