A Colombian man packed up his classroom, notebooks and pencils at Litchfield Middle School, where he’s volunteered for five months, and may never return.

After searching for nearly 10 years for gainful employment to immigrate to the United States, Juan Gomez-Lindo returned to his country of birth, Bogota, Colombia, on June 6. Gomez-Lindo faced a situation many people who don’t have a temporary worker visa have experienced. Being unable to find a job, he volunteered as an English as a Second Language teacher for children at Litchfield Middle School.

“(I tried) to come here legally,” he said. “But it’s so hard sometimes, and there are so many barriers and obstacles to overcome.”

Gomez-Lindo was in the country with a visitor visa, but he wanted to obtain an H-1B visa, a work visa for foreigners. Many of the U.S. companies interested in hiring Gomez-Lindo hesitated once they discovered they would have to sponsor him, he said. This either has to do with the employer’s lack of experience with the process or they are seeking employees for the long-term, he said.

The executive order President Trump signed on April 18, 2017, Buy American and Hire American, made it harder for people in Gomez-Lindo’s situation to work in the U.S. The policy focused on creating higher wages and employment rates for U.S. workers. This policy made H-1B visas awardable to the most-skilled or highest-paid recipients, according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. And as a result, the denial rate for H-1B visa applications has increased in 2019, as reported by Pew Research Center.

A report from USCIS suggested the rate of approval for H-1B visa decreased between 2015-2018. In 2015 it was 95.7 percent, in 2016 it was 93.9 percent and in 2017 it was 92.6 percent. But in 2018 it decreased to 84.5 percent. The rate continues to decline, and in early 2019, it dropped to 79.4 percent.

Through Youth with a Mission, a faith-based program, Gomez-Lindo came to Minnesota. He found a host family, Beverley and Larry Anderson of Dassel, to stay with while he looked for employment. However, this venture proved harder than expected.

Companies must sponsor a person without citizenship in the U.S. to employ them legally. Gomez-Lindo said he hasn’t stopped looking for a job since he’s been in the U.S., using career-based sites such as Indeed, Career Builder and others to post his resume.

“It’s been non-stop,” he said. “Since I came here for the first time, since 2010, I started to keep looking (for jobs) and sent resumes.”

Finally, after so many tries, in the summer of 2017, the Holland Center in Minnetonka wanted to hire him and offered him a behavioral therapy position. Gomez-Lindo was also glad to learn that the center had experience hiring foreigners. They interviewed him through Skype and were satisfied, so they finished the application and sent it to USCIS for approval, he said.

But USCIS denied the application due to a missing signature from the employer, who could not resubmit the application to USCIS. Anderson said that this was a huge disappointment.

“To know that you were picked and then to get denied for just such a small infraction was just devastating to him and to us,” she said.

Gomez-Lindo is qualified, hard-working and has many different talents, and he could be an asset to any company in the U.S., she said.

“You are not just hiring him for the immediate position — because of who he is and his personality and his giftedness, he brings a lot of qualities (and) characteristics to any job,” she said.

Gomez-Lindo returned to Colombia saying goodbye to Litchfield.

Covering stories that matter is what I am here to do for both the Litchfield Independent Review and Hutchinson Leader. School Board issues, news and human-interest stories are among the topics I write enthusiastically about. Follow me and say hello.

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