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Greater Scrutiny Set for Nonimmigrant Work Visa Renewals

The United States has announced changes to its nonimmigrant work visa policies that are expected to make renewals more difficult.

In the past, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services would generally approve the renewals unless the visa holder had committed a crime. Now, renewals will face the same scrutiny as the original applications.

“USCIS officers are at the front lines of the administration’s efforts to enhance the integrity of the immigration system,” USCIS Director L. Francis Cissna said, according to the announcement posted on USCIS’ website this week. “This updated guidance provides clear direction to help advance policies that protect the interests of U.S. workers.”

The new regulations could affect more than 100,000 people holding at least eight different types of work visas who fill out the I-129 form for renewals.

Sam Adair, a partner at the Graham Adair business immigration law firm in California and Texas, said that for the most part, he expected visa holders would most likely face lengthier adjudication periods in their renewal processes, as opposed to increased numbers of denials.

“I don’t think it’s going to be a big shift for us,” Adair told VOA. “But I think what we’ll see is just an increase in the number of requests for evidence, an increase in the delays on the adjudication of these petitions, and really it’s going to just result in more costs for the employers who are filing these petitions.”

‘High-skilled’ workers

Of all visa holders affected by this policy, those in the United States on an H-1B, a visa for “high-skilled” workers, are the biggest group. Of 109,537 people who had to submit I-129 forms in fiscal 2017, 95,485 were H-1B holders, according to data sent to VOA by USCIS.

H-1B visas have been threatened in the past, most recently by a bill proposed this year that would have raised the minimum salary requirement for workers brought in on the visa. While advocates of the program argued that it would keep workers from being exploited, many H-1B holders feared that businesses would be less willing to hire them or keep them on board.

But some Americans support the new regulations, saying that nonimmigrant work visas hurt American workers.

“It’s prudent to make sure that the people that receive those visas are in complete compliance with all of the requirements,” Joe Guzzardi, national media director of Californians for Population Stabilization, told VOA.

“It just isn’t possible to think that there aren’t American workers that couldn’t fill these jobs,” he said, noting that while the regulations might hurt businesses, they would help Americans looking for work.

Trump Ponders New Head for Federal Reserve

President Donald Trump says he is “very close” to picking a person for the most important economic post in the United States, the head of the Federal Reserve. Current Chair Janet Yellen’s term expires early next year and she is one of at least five candidates for the job.

Besides Yellen, the candidates include Fed board member Jerome Powell, former Fed governor Kevin Warsh, Stanford University economist John Taylor and Trump economic adviser Gary Cohn.

 

WATCH: Who Will Be the Next Fed Chief?

Moody’s Analytics economist Ryan Sweet says a new Fed chief is likely to continue current policy at least for a while because “rocking the boat” could rattle financial markets.

The Fed’s job is to manage the world’s largest economy in ways that maximize employment and maintain stable prices. During recessions, the bank cuts interest rates in a bid to boost economic growth and create more jobs.To cope with the most recent recession, the U.S. central bank slashed interest rates nearly to zero.

The jobless rate fell from 10 percent to the current 4.2 percent, and the economy stopped shrinking and began growing slowly.

Critics of the record-low interest rates said keeping rates too low for too long could spark strong inflation and damage the economy. However, the inflation rate has been below the two percent level that many experts say is best for the economy.

As a member of the Fed’s board and later as Chair, Yellen supported low interest rates and a slow, cautious return to “normal” rates. Experts also say she improved communication between the Fed and financial markets, which reduced uncertainty and reassured investors.

Trump criticized Yellen during the campaign, but then as president, praised her work. Analysts Tom Buerkle of “Reuters Breaking Views” gives the Fed credit for taking effective action during a crisis when Congress was reluctant to act.

Another candidate is former investment banker Gary Cohn, who now heads the National Economic Council at the White House. He has reportedly been working on efforts to reform taxes and boost spending on U.S. infrastructure.

Fed Board member Jerome Powell is also a candidate. He is a Republican with a background in private equity who served in a top Treasury Department post. Powell supported Yellen’s approach of slashing interest rates during the crisis, and returning them to historic levels as the economy recovers.

When rates were cut to nearly zero, Fed officials took the further step of buying huge quantities of bonds in an effort to push down long-term interest rates to give additional economic stimulus. The complex procedure is called “quantitative easing.”

“Ryan Sweet of Moody’s Analytics says when the next recession appears, Powell will be more willing to use tools like quantitative easing than more conservative candidates like Kevin Warsh and John Taylor.

Warsh is a former member of the Fed’s board, a lawyer, and a former executive of a major financial firm with experience at the president’s National Economic Council.

John Taylor of Stanford University and the Hoover Institution is an eminent economist who has served on advisory councils for presidents and congress and written books on economic topics. Taylor came up with an equation, called the “Taylor Rule,” that considers inflation as well as slack in the economy as a way to set interest rates. Some conservatives say the Taylor Rule would improve policymaking.

Critics say the economy is too complex to be managed by a computer, and the Taylor Rule would make the Fed less independent and effective.

Tara Sinclair of Indeed.com says independence is a “key part” of having an effective monetary policy. She says the interest rate-setting process and other decisions need to be separate from Congress and the administration so interest rates and other policies are based on long-run economic needs.

The president is expected to announce his choice in early November.

Twitter Surprises With Third Quarter Earnings

Twitter is reporting a loss of $21.1 million in its third quarter, but turned in a better-than-expected profit when one-time charges and benefits are removed.

 

Shares of Twitter Inc. soared almost 9 percent before the opening bell Thursday.

 

The San Francisco company had a loss of 3 cents, but a gain of 10 cents if those non-re-occurring events are removed.  That’s 2 cents better than industry analysts had predicted, according to a survey by Zacks Investment Research.

 

Revenue was $589.6 million in the period, in line with expectations.

Tea Party Groups Settle Lawsuits Over IRS Mistreatment

The Trump administration has settled lawsuits with tea party groups that received extra, often burdensome scrutiny when applying for tax-exempt status, ending another chapter in a political scandal that dogged the Obama administration and remains a source of outrage for Republicans.

The Internal Revenue Service is apologizing to the groups as part of the proposed settlement agreements outlined in court filings Wednesday. The groups and the Justice Department are asking a judge to declare it illegal for the tax agency to discriminate based on political views, according to the agreements, which still must be approved by a judge.

Republicans erupted in 2013 after the IRS apologized for submitting conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status to intensive scrutiny, in part by zeroing in on groups with words like “Tea Party” or “Patriot” in their names. Many had their applications delayed for months and years. Some were asked improper questions about their donors and even their religious practices, an inspector general’s report found.

Hundreds of organizations joined lawsuits, alleging their constitutional rights were violated.

Much of the agency’s leadership, including top official Lois Lerner, resigned or retired over the scandal. One of the proposed settlement agreements calls senior management “delinquent” in providing control and direction over the process. And it faults Lerner for failing to tell upper-level management of the long delays in processing applications from tea party and other conservative groups.

Still, the Obama Justice Department announced in 2015 that no one at the IRS would be prosecuted in the scandal, saying investigators had found mismanagement but no evidence that it had targeted a political group based on its viewpoints or obstructed justice.

Republicans had hoped the Justice Department under Attorney General Jeff Sessions would reopen its case against Lerner. But officials told members of Congress last month they would not charge Lerner, saying “reopening the criminal investigation would not be appropriate based on the available evidence.”

Twitter Toughens Abuse Rules – and now has to Enforce Them

Twitter is enacting new policies around hate, abuse and ads, but creating new rules is only half the battle – the easy half.

The bigger problem is enforcement, and there the company has had some high-profile bungles recently. That includes its much-criticized suspension of actress Rose McGowan while she was speaking out against Harvey Weinstein, and the company’s ban, later reversed, of a controversial ad by a Republican Senate candidate.

 

The twists and turns suggest that Twitter doesn’t always communicate the intent of its rules to the people enforcing them. The company says it will be clearer about these policies and decisions in the future.

More US Women Run for Office as Resources Are Found

When Jo Ann Davidson ran for the Reynoldsburg, Ohio, city council, she picked up a book that explained everything a candidate needed to know about running for office.  It had just three pages tailored for females.

“There really was nothing out there at the time,” said Davidson, “to help a woman candidate.”

Davidson lost that first race in 1965, but she returned strong. And won. And continued winning. She held that seat for 10 years until she was elected and re-elected to serve a total of 20 years as a state legislator. Her legislative peers elected her as the first female Speaker of the Ohio General Assembly — her enormous portrait graces the walls of the Ohio House Chamber and a second one is in the Ladies’ gallery. Davidson also served as co-chair of the Republican National Committee.  

Now, she holds an eight-month program to encourage and train Republican women about how to run for office.

‘I can do this’

With a strict application process and a cap of 25 students, the waiting list for The Jo Ann Davidson Leadership Institute is unending. Davidson says women sometimes lack confidence and knowledge of the political system. Her goal is for them to finish the training, fearlessly stating, “I can do this.”

Davison’s training is one of only a few geared toward Republican women. Dozens of training groups are aimed at women who are Democrats, non-partisan, or cater to specific gender, age or ethnic demographics. 

Gail Dixon is a founding member of Oasis, a Florida organization dedicated to empowering women. The three-day non-partisan conference, titled “Women Can Run,” is held in partnership through the Center for American Women and Politics (CAWP) at Rutgers University. While women are a slim majority of the U.S. population, CAWP figures show women hold just 19.6 percent of the seats in the U.S. Congress and 24 percent of statewide offices.

Just ask them

“I think that the world changes in the halls of power,” said Gail Dixon, a founding member of Oasis. Dixon says those numbers are low because of how males are socialized to be leaders, making a steeper “trajectory for women in perceiving themselves to be to be entitled to a seat at the table.”

Samantha Politano, the youngest woman at the conference at age 18, says her fellow coeds at Florida State University have grown up believing they should maintain traditional female roles, like nursing. But she’s pleased to see more women running to prove, “We can take on masculine traits without fear of being less of a woman.” Politano says someday she may run for president of the United States.

The trainers who spoke with VOA said one basic motivation would encourage more women to run. They simply need to be asked. For Suzanne Van Wyk, that took several times. She’s now running her first campaign. “My husband has suggested, prodded and encouraged me to run for probably the last seven years.”  

2016 prompts female Democrats to run

For some women, the inspiration was Hillary Clinton, the first woman to be nominated for president by a major political party. 

“For me, it was definitely the last straw,” said Becky Anderson Wilkins, who’s running for Illinois’ 6th district. She’s running against Republican Representative Peter Roskam, who’s held that position since 2007. 

But what sets that Illinois race apart are the numbers. 

Anderson Wilkins is one of six women running against Roskam. They first have to win the Democratic Party primary in which one of the six — or one of the four male candidates — will advance to the general election.

Wilkins calls it “a slew” of women and that “it shows that we really care that we have to make a change.”

‘I’m going to run for this!’

The numbers of women entering politics are increasing, slowly, yet not as quickly as some had hoped.  But if you ask Jo Ann Davidson, with her more than 50 years in politics, how females have changed she sounds optimistic. 

“Younger women are getting better at stepping up,” the sprightly 90-year-old says with a smile,” and saying ‘I’m going to run for this!”

Katherine Gypson contributed to this report

Ancient Origami Art Becomes Engineers’ Dream in Space

Robert Salazar has been playing with origami, the Japanese art of paper folding, since he was 8 years old. When he sees a sheet of paper, his imagination takes over and intricate animals take shape.

“Seeing the single uncut sheet, it has everything you need to create all of the origami that have ever been folded. It is all in the single sheet so there is endless potential,” Salazar said.

The endless potential of origami, folding a single sheet of paper into an intricate sculpture, reaches all the way to space.

Salazar’s 17-year experience with origami is appreciated at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. As a contractor and intern, Salazar is helping create objects that may one day be used in space exploration.

“Origami offers the potential to take a very large structure, even a vast structure, and you can get it to fit within the rocket, go up, then deploy back out again. So it greatly magnifies what we are capable of building in space,” Salazar said.

Folding a large object into a relatively small space is not a simple task.

“A big challenge in origami design in general is that because all of these folds share a single resource, which is a single sheet … everything is highly interdependent, so if you change just one feature it has an impact on everything else,” Salazar said.

“One of our guide stars really is keep it as simple as can be,” said Manan Arya, a technologist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. “Don’t add unnecessary complexity because every piece of complexity, every piece of hardware you add, that ends up being another potential point of failure.”

Starshade

Folding an object the size of a baseball diamond so that it could fit into a rocket is the goal of a NASA project called Starshade.

Once it opens in space, Starshade would allow a space telescope to better see the planets around bright stars.

“Seeing an exoplanet next to its parent star is like trying to image a firefly next to a search light, the searchlight being the star,” said Arya, who is  working on the Starshade project. “Starshade seeks to block out that starlight so you can image a really faint exoplanet right next to it.”

Origami robot

Origami is also used in designing a robot called the Pop-Up Flat Folding Explorer Robot, or PUFFER. It has a body that can fold itself flat and roll under small spaces. PUFFER has been tested on desert terrains and snowy slopes. It may one day end up on a mission to another planet.

 

“It [PUFFER] is to explore environments otherwise inaccessible to a robot that could not fold itself to fit inside these cracks, [to] explore cave systems, could be other planets, even on our own,” Salazar said.

Origami antenna

Another application for space origami design is to pack an antenna into satellites the size of a briefcase, called CubeSats.

“The bigger the antenna you have, the more gain your antenna has, so it is useful to have a big antenna that gets packaged into this tiny space that unfolds out to be a large antenna. The biggest CubeSat antennas right now are about half a meter,” Arya said.

Unexplored territory

There are also largely unexplored surfaces that can utilize origami concepts in designing new technologies.

“So often, origami design has been tailored toward materials that are already lying flat,” Salazar said. “But there is actually a vastly, a much larger field of application for which the surfaces are not flat, so they could be parabolic. They could be spherical. They could be many combinations of doubly curved surfaces coming together. All of these things can also be folded.”

In the current origami-inspired technologies being developed at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, there is a graceful beauty to the folding and unfolding of designs such as the Starshade, which unfurls into what looks like a sunflower. In origami, Salazar said, art, science and engineering are only superficially different.

“Really, when it comes down to it, you’re looking at the world,” he said. “You’re making observations. You’re finding patterns in these observations. [You’re] developing an understanding of what you see, then using that understanding to create. And when you’re creating, [it] can either be creating with the intention of solving a physical problem or it could be nonphysical. It could be aesthetic. You’re trying to find a particular impact on people when they see your work. So really, the practice is the same.”

In origami, Salazar said art, science and engineering are quite similar. They draw on making observations and creating something that produces an impact.

Final Release of JFK Assassination Files Expected Thursday

A final batch of government documents related to the 1963 assassination of President John F. Kennedy is expected to be released Thursday, perhaps shedding new light on a tragic event that has fascinated the public and JFK experts for decades. VOA national correspondent Jim Malone reports from Washington.

New US Study: Compromise Health Law Changes Would Have Little Effect

A bipartisan measure to stabilize the U.S. health insurance markets would save the government money, but do little to cut the cost of premiums for consumers or substantially change the number of people who have insurance to help pay their medical bills, a new independent study concluded Wednesday.

With Republican efforts stalled in Congress to dismantle national health policies championed by former President Barack Obama, two senators, Republican Lamar Alexander and Democrat Patty Murray, reached an accord to keep markets for individual insurance buyers from collapsing.

Good news, bad news

In the new analysis, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) said the compromise crafted by Alexander and Murray would cut the government’s deficit by $3.8 billion over the next decade, but “would not substantially change the number of people with health insurance coverage.” The CBO earlier said the Republican replacement plans would have cut 20 million or more people from insurance rolls.

While there is bipartisan support for the Alexander-Murray compromise in the Senate, Republican leaders who control the congressional legislative agenda have yet to commit that there will be a vote on it. Republicans have tried dozens of times over the past seven years, all unsuccessfully, to repeal the Affordable Care Act, popularly known as Obamacare. Their latest attempts to undermine the law failed in several key votes earlier this year.

However, key legislative leaders say the Alexander-Murray health care changes could be added to other measures that lawmakers will be debating as current government funding expires in early December.

Limited support

President Donald Trump has voiced some support for the Alexander-Murray pact, but said he wants other changes to curb payments to insurance companies as compensation for their providing lower-cost policies to poorer Americans.

About 20 million people who previously had no health insurance have gained coverage under Obamacare, but Republicans have long viewed the law as government overreach, chiefly because it requires virtually all Americans to buy insurance or pay a fine if they do not.

Most American workers get their health insurance coverage through their employers, while the government pays for much of the coverage for older and poorer people.

Individuals who buy their own insurance are most affected by the debate over the fate of Obamacare.