Patrick McQuown and Tim Shey never thought about hiring a foreign-born worker for their company.
But when they got a job application from a Korean national who held a master's degree in computer graphic design, they leapt at the chance to put her to work at Proteus Inc., their D.C.-based Web development and consulting firm.
Nearly a year later, they have found getting the necessary visa work completed to be an expensive nightmare. They've spent $6,000 so far on legal fees alone, and the worker's application still hasn't been approved.
"It's been very stressful for her and for us," said Shey, co-founder and creative director at the 50-person company. "It definitely has made us wary" of hiring other overseas workers, he said.
The employee, who requested anonymity because her case is pending before the Immigration and Naturalization Service, started work in this country as a student intern. She ran into trouble when she left the United States to attend her father's funeral in South Korea five months ago. At the time, her student work visa was in the process of being converted to H1-B status, a kind of longer-term permit for workers skilled in technical and other fields.
The Proteus worker said in a telephone interview that she decided to undergo an employment screening, one of the last stages of the visa application, at the U.S. Embassy in Korea, in hopes of speeding up the process. But when she arrived at the interview in early May, she said, she was asked questions about programming skills that did not relate to her job.
"I was really frustrated and nervous," said the woman, a graduate of a master's of fine arts program in Rochester, N.Y. "I made a phone call to the embassy when I got home and told them, 'I'm a designer, not a programmer.' I wrote them a letter."
When Proteus executives heard about the problems of their worker, who had served as lead designer on at least two client projects, they reached out for legal advice and contacted Rep. Constance A. Morella (R-Md.) and Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) for help.
"[She] is a highly important team member, and our company's work is going to be compromised because of her absence," Shey wrote to Norton.