International students denied visas to work in Provincetown

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PROVINCETOWN – Businesses in Provincetown are running into trouble when to comes to hiring summer employees. International students, who make up a large portion of the workforce, can’t get cleared to work.

“Our season is fairly small and you kind of need to do a year’s worth of business in a fairly short window,” said Frank Vasello, owner of Relish, a bakery and sandwich Shop in Provincetown.

To do that, restaurant owners need workers. Many of them are international college students here on J-1 visas.

Vasello says two-thirds of his workforce is made up of the international students. Only this year, his students are getting rejected. Their paperwork is coming with a questionable caveat.

“It said basically your visa is on hold, please look for another placement preferably somewhere else other than Provincetown,” Vasello said.

He has two apartments ready to sleep eight students. So far only two have been approved, with the vast majority coming from Bulgaria.

“Some Bulgarian students are getting visas, and some aren’t and so it seems very capricious,” Vasello said.

Incident in Provincetown last summer   

Vasello is not alone. WBZ spoke off camera with a few other business owners. They too are getting rejections and believe the issues may stem from an incident last summer.

“One of the jobs the students are specifically prohibited from having is a pedicab job,” Vasello said. “And many students were working as pedicab drivers, and someone called the State Department I assume, and then there was a quick investigation and they immediately deported five students right away.”

Rep. Keating to meet with State Department  

WBZ spoke with U.S. Representative Bill Keating (D-MA). He says there are 80 job categories that J-1 students aren’t allowed to do, but he would not speculate if the incident played a role in the current situation.

“This is the catch, preferably not from Provincetown. So, we have never seen anything like that, honestly,” Keating said.

Keating just got back from a diplomatic visit to Ukraine. On Monday he will meet with the State Department for a briefing to get a handle on why they are rejecting the visas.

“These J-1 visa, the young people are really part of the backbone of getting us through the whole tourist season,” Keating said.

“It would be great to get actually specific reasoning as to why this is happening,” Vasello said.

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