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Trump Administration Denying, Delaying More Foreign Skilled-worker Requests

The Trump administration is denying and delaying more skilled-worker visa petitions than at any time since at least 2015, in keeping with its promise to increase scrutiny of foreign workers, according to data the government released on Friday.

U.S. officials say they have made reforms that prioritize American workers, cut down on fraud and streamline the immigration process. But lawyers who help employers apply for the visas say the agency is rejecting legitimate applications and tying up requests in bureaucratic red tape.

The data provided by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), the agency that adjudicates the visas, extends to the 2015 fiscal year, encompassing the last two years of the Obama administration and the first two years of the Trump administration.

New policies for H-1B visas

Republican President Donald Trump campaigned in 2016 on restricting immigration, and early in his presidency issued an executive order directing the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees USCIS, to tighten its policies on H-1B visas. The visas are intended for foreign workers who generally have bachelor’s degrees or higher to work in the United States, often in the technology, healthcare and education sectors.

In the 2018 fiscal year, which ended on Sept. 30, the government issued “initial denials” to over 61,000 H-1B applications. In that time, the government issued decisions on over 396,000 applications.

That is more than double the number of such denials over the prior year, even as the total number of applications the government completed dropped by about 2 percent between 2017 and 2018.

And denials look set to increase even further this year. In the first quarter of the 2019 fiscal year, the government issued initial denials to nearly 25,000 H-1B applications, a 50 percent increase over the same period last year.

Approval rate drops

The majority of petitions are still being approved, but the approval rate is dropping. In 2015, the approval rate was 96 percent, compared with 85 percent last year.

“USCIS has made a series of reforms designed to protect U.S. workers, increase our confidence in the eligibility of those who receive benefits, cut down on frivolous petitions, and improve the integrity and efficiency of the immigration petition process,” said Jessica Collins, a USCIS spokeswoman.

The government data also show that the administration is issuing far more “requests for evidence” in response to H-1B applications. Such requests, or RFEs as they are known, often challenge the basis of the original petitions and require employers and attorneys to submit additional paperwork.

Receiving an RFE from the government can add several months and thousands of dollars in legal fees to the cost of applying for a visa, attorneys say.

Screening questioned

The number of completed H-1B petitions that drew an RFE reached over 150,000 last year, compared with 86,000 in 2017, a 75 percent increase.

Ron Hira, a professor at Howard University and critic of the H-1B program, said the data suggests USCIS is giving employers a fair opportunity to justify their petitions through the RFE process.

“It also makes one question whether the Obama administration was doing an adequate job in ensuring the integrity and accountability of the H-1B program,” Hira wrote in an email. He also noted that large tech companies, such as Microsoft Corp, Amazon, Alphabet Inc’s Google and Facebook Inc, enjoyed H-1B approval rates last year of 98 percent or 99 percent, according to USCIS, while firms that have been criticized for using H-1B workers to replace Americans saw their petitions approved at far lower rates.

But immigration attorneys say many of the denials and RFEs are violating the laws and regulations governing the program. Some companies are successfully challenging the denials in federal court. Entegris Professional Solutions, a Minnesota company, sued USCIS in December over the rejection of an H-1B application for one of its employees.

This month, USCIS reopened the case and granted the petition, said Matthew Webster, one of Entegris’ attorneys on the case.

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NY Governor Orders Probe Into Facebook Data Access From iOS Apps

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo on Friday ordered two state agencies to investigate a media report that Facebook Inc may be accessing far more personal information from smartphone users, including health and other sensitive data, than had previously been known.

The directive to New York’s Department of State and Department of Financial Services came after The Wall Street Journal said testing showed that Facebook collected personal information from other apps on users’ smartphones within seconds of them entering it.

The WSJ reported that several apps share sensitive user data including weight, blood pressure and ovulation status with Facebook. The report said that the company can access data in some cases even when the user is not signed into Facebook or does not have a Facebook account.

In a statement Cuomo called the practice an “outrageous abuse of privacy.” He also called on the relevant federal regulators to become involved.

Facebook did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment.

Shares in Facebook took a short-lived hit after the Wall Street Journal report was published, but closed up 1.2 percent.

In late January Cuomo along with New York Attorney General Letitia James announced an investigation into Apple Inc’s failure to warn consumers about a FaceTime bug that had let iPhones users listen to conversations of others who have not yet accepted a video call.

Facebook is facing a slew of lawsuits and regulatory inquiries over privacy issues, including a U.S. Federal Trade Commission investigation into disclosures that Facebook inappropriately shared information belonging to 87 million users with British political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica.

New York’s financial services department does not traditionally supervise social media companies directly, but has waded into digital privacy in the financial sector and could have oversight of some app providers that send user data to Facebook.

In March, it is slated to implement the country’s first cybersecurity rules governing state-regulated financial institutions such as banks, insurers and credit monitors.

Last month, DFS said life insurers could use social media posts in underwriting policies, so long as they did not discriminate based on race, color, national origin, sexual orientation or other protected classes.

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НБУ: у 2018 році обсяг безготівкових операцій становив майже 1,3 трильйона гривень

У 2018 році обсяг безготівкових операцій становив майже 1,3 трильйона гривень, свідчить звіт Національного банку України.

Кількість таких операцій порівняно з 2017 роком зросла майже на 33% і становила 3,1 мільярда.

У Національному банку зазначили, що станом на 1 січня 2019 року випустили майже 59,4 мільйона платіжних карток. Водночас 62,2% від загальної кількості карток становили активні платіжні картки, кількість яких за рік збільшилась на 6,0% і на початок 2019 року становила 36,9 мільйона штук. Кожна дев’ята активна платіжна картка є безконтактною.

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Європейський інвестбанк реалізовує в Україні проекти на 3 млрд євро – Мінфін

Європейський інвестиційний банк реалізовує в Україні 14 проектів на загальну суму в понад три мільярди євро, повідомило Міністерство фінансів України.

Крім того, п’ять проектів із загальним обсягом 302 мільйони євро перебувають на різних стадіях підготовки.

Зокрема, Європейський інвестиційний банк та Європейський банк реконструкції та розвитку готуються надати 176 мільйонів євро на новий проект із покращення безпеки руху в Україні.

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NY Gov. Cuomo Deems Losing 2nd Amazon HQ ‘Greatest Tragedy’

Gov. Andrew Cuomo says Amazon’s backing out of a deal to put one of its second headquarters in New York City is the “greatest tragedy” he has seen since he’s been in government.

Cuomo said Friday on public radio station WAMC that losing the Amazon deal makes him sick to his stomach. Cuomo’s public comments were his first on the topic since his office issued a statement February 14, the day the Seattle-based internet retailer announced it was backing out of an agreement to redevelop a site in Queens.

Cuomo again blamed fellow Democrats who control the state Senate. They include Sen. Michael Gianaris, who represents the Long Island City neighborhood where Amazon wanted to base 25,000 jobs.

Emails requesting comment were sent to the offices of Gianaris and the Senate majority.

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Оприлюднені понад 300 документів про репресованих міністрів Української революції 1917-20 років

Центр досліджень визвольного руху опублікував понад 300 документів про 23-х репресованих міністрів Української революції 1917-1920 років. До колекції увійшли матеріали з Галузевого державного архіву СБУ, Центрального державного архіву громадських об’єднань та Центрального державного архіву вищих органів влади та управління України.

«Вигадані справи, розстріли, табори і заочне засудження – так комуністи розправлялися із тими, хто керував Українською Народною Республікою. 17 із 23 репресованих міністрів УНР та Гетьманату комуністичний режим убив чи довів до смерті в ув’язенні. Міністра народної освіти Володимира Науменка та міністра фінансів Петра Климовича розстріляли лише за сам факт перебування на урядових посадах», – повідомили в ЦДВР.

Більшість міністрів Української революції 1917-20 років неодноразово заарештовували й засуджували за їхню державницьку діяльність під час чотирьох хвиль політичних переслідувань в СРСР.

«Такою була ціна втрати держави для політичної еліти 100 років тому. Сьогодні, коли триває чергова війна Росії проти України, вкрай важливо пам‘ятати уроки історії часів першої незалежності», – розповів директор архіву СБУ Андрій Когут.

Оприлюднені 314 документів стали основою для науково-документального видання «Горе переможеним. Репресовані міністри Української революції». Його презентація запланована на 28 лютого в інформаційно-виставковому центрі Музею Майдану.

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Trump, Chinese Vice Premier Extend Trade Talks

U.S. President Donald Trump and Chinese Vice Premier Liu He expressed optimism Friday that the two countries would reach a trade agreement and defuse a dispute between the world’s two largest economies, as both sides agreed to continue their negotiations for two more days.

“I would say that it’s more likely that a deal will happen,” Trump said to reporters at the White House.

Speaking through an interpreter, Liu, China’s top trade negotiator, said, “We believe that it is very likely that it will happen. And we hope that ultimately we will have a deal.”

Liu has been granted authority to negotiate directly with the U.S. by Chinese President Xi Jinping.

“The fact that they’re willing to stay for quite a bit longer period, doubling up the time, that means something,” Trump added, “I think there’s a good chance that it happens.”

U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin confirmed that talks have been extended through Sunday.

​Tariff threat 

Trump appeared to back away from his threat to more than double tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese goods if no deal is achieved by March 1. 

“You can tell this to President Xi,” Trump said to Liu. “If I see progress being made, substantial progress being made, it would not be inappropriate to extend that deadline, keep it at 10 percent instead of raising it to 25 percent. And I would be inclined to doing that.”

The U.S. is calling on China to make structural changes on key issues such as stopping the theft of American technology and reining in improper subsidies and other advantages provided to state-owned companies.  

Trump said he expected to meet with Xi to work out the finer points of the deal. “Probably in Mar-a-Lago, probably fairly soon,” he said. 

 

Currency deal? 

 

The two countries imposed more than $360 billion in tariffs in two-way trade last year, after Trump triggered the trade dispute over complaints of unfair trade practices. The tariffs have weighed heavily on both countries’ manufacturing sectors and raised concern they could exacerbate the global economic slowdown.  

 

In the meeting, Mnuchin told Trump that “currency manipulation,” a significant sticking point in the trade talks, had been resolved. 

 

“We’ve actually concluded and reached an agreement, one of the strongest agreements ever on currency, but we have a lot of work to do over the next two days,” Mnuchin said. 

 

Details of the currency deal or any other part of the agreement have not yet been released. 

 

Charles Boustany of the U.S.-based National Bureau of Asian Research co-authored a newly released report that includes recommendations on how to manage the trade impasse. 

“We don’t believe the [Trump] administration has set the stage properly to get China to change,” Boustany told VOA. “It’s truly a test if China will change with these broad structural issues. So, we don’t think the deal they come up with is truly enforceable at this stage.”

Boustany said the U.S. must solicit the help of allies to build more pressure on China, adding maintaining U.S. efforts will not “be enough unilaterally.”

Praise and frustration 

Trump effusively praised Xi and lauded the Chinese delegation. He recounted how in 1985, then-Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, who is the current U.S. ambassador to China, met and worked with Xi and predicted he would become China’s president.

Liu brought a letter from Xi that was read out loud by an interpreter. In it, Xi thanks the U.S. president for the “lovely video” the Trumps’ grandchildren made for Xi and his wife to mark the Chinese Lunar New Year. Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner’s children “speak fluent Chinese,” according to President Trump.

But Trump appeared frustrated by the legal and bureaucratic process needed to reach an agreement. Several times he argued with his own negotiating team on the need for a Memorandum of Understanding or Letter of Intent, both documents commonly used in negotiations. 

 

“I don’t like MOUs because they don’t mean anything, to me they don’t mean anything. I think you’re better off just going into a document. I was never, never a fan of an MOU,” Trump said. 

 

U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, lead negotiator of the talks, responded, “A Memorandum of Understanding is a binding agreement between two people. And that’s what we’re talking about in detail. This covers everything in great detail.” 

 

Trump disagreed and argued until Lighthizer said, “No more! We’ll never use the term! We’ll have the same document — it’s going to be called a trade agreement. We’re never going to use MOU again.”  

VOA’s Mandarin service contributed to this report.

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Тендер на розробку ТЕО метро на Троєщину оголосять наступного тижня – КМДА

У Київміськдержадміністрації повідомили про скасування тендеру на розробку технікo-екoнoмічнoгo обґрунтування (ТЕО) метро на масив Троєщина (Пoдільськo-Вигурівська лінія). Як повідомив заступник голови КМДА Дмитро Давтян, таке рішення зумовлене «технічним моментом», і вже наступного тижня буде оголошений новий тендер.

«Причина такого кроку – зміна джерела фінансування: попередній мав фінансуватися із міського бюджету, а новий будемо фінансувати коштами міського бюджету та власними коштами КП «Київський метрополітен», – сказав Датян.

За його словами, ні на терміни розробки ТЕО, ні на майбутні будівельні дії перенесення тендеру не впливатиме.

«На даному етапі необхідно провести деякі роботи з уточнень джерел фінансування. Це юридична процедура. Вона не вплине на заплановані терміни реалізації проекту», – сказав посадовець.

Наприкінці минулого року міський голова Києва Віталій Кличко підписав розпорядження про будівництво лінії метро від Кільцевої дороги до житлового масиву Троєщина.

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