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A Failure to Pay Wages Halts U.S. Internship for Eleven Non-immigrant Aliens

Int’l Internships Programs v. Napolitano
Civil Case No: 10-1234 (RJL)

by Lindsey N. Lanzendorfer, Summer Associate
Semmes, Bowen & Semmes (

In this recent opinion from the United States District Court for the District of Columbia, Judge Richard Leon denied Plaintiff’s Motion for Preliminary Injunctive Relief. Judge Leon found that Plaintiff failed to satisfy any of the four factors considered for injunctive relief.

The Plaintiff, International Internship Programs (IIP), is a non-profit corporation that sponsors a cultural exchange program where residents of Japan, Korea, Thailand, and China visit the United States. As part of an internship component, IIP applies for and secures Q-1 cultural visas for the participants and places them in internships at “host schools.” Interns pay from $5,400 to $8,600 to participate in the program and are not paid for their work as interns.

The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Vermont Service Center denied IIP’s petition for eleven Q-1 visas for the 2010–2011 cultural exchange program. USCIS denied the petition because IIP failed to satisfy the obligation set out in 8 C.F.R. § 214.1(q)(4)(i)(D) to offer “wages and working conditions comparable to those accorded local domestic workers similarly employed.” In response, IIP brought suit and filed a Motion for Preliminary Injunctive Relief, requesting that USCIS be required to “authorize the consular officer to consider whether a visa should issue.” Int’l Internships Programs v. Napolitano, Civil Case No. 10-1234 (RJL), slip op. at 7 (D. D.C. July 19, 2011).

Judge Leon denied the motion, focusing on the four factors a judge must weigh in deciding whether to grant a preliminary injunction: (1) whether the plaintiff has a substantial likelihood of success on the merits; (2) whether the plaintiff would suffer irreparable injury in the absence of injunctive relief; (3) whether the requested injunction would not substantially injure other interested parties; and (4) whether the requested injunction would further the public interest. Although the moving party need not prevail on every factor, a preliminary injunction is an extraordinary and drastic remedy. In denying the motion, the Court first pointed out that IIP’s underlying claim, that USCIS’s decision was arbitrary and capricious, did not have a substantial likelihood of success. The USCIS relied on host school applications and IIP’s training documents in making its decision that the non-immigrant aliens were not being paid wages comparable to local domestic workers. In addition, although IIP argued that comparable wages on local interns could be zero income, the Court found that USCIS’s interpretation of wages as a non-zero number was a reasonable interpretation. IIP also failed to show that it would suffer irreparable harm: IIP claimed that its injuries had already occurred so an injunction could not prevent future injury. Furthermore, an injunction would harm an interested party, the United States, because it would undermine its plenary power over the admission of aliens. In turn, an injunction would fail to further the public interest—it would not only subvert the United States’ plenary power, it would undermine Congress’ statutory intent to require a wage for recipients of Q-1 visas.