The opinion of the court was delivered by: LASKER
Tayeb Mukadam sues to set aside, as an abuse of discretion, a decision by the United States Department of Labor denying him certification under § 212(a)(14) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, 8 U.S.C. § 1182(a)(14). Both Mukadam and the government move for summary judgment in their favor on the basis of the undisputed facts. For the reasons which follow, Mukadam's motion is granted and that of the government denied.
Mukadam, a citizen of India residing in the United States on a temporary visa, seeks to obtain permanent residence in the United States by being allocated a "third preference" visa as a member of a profession. See 8 U.S.C. § 1153(a) (3).
As part of the process, he applied in October of 1975 for certification from the Department of Labor, under § 212(a)(14) of the INA, that there were not already sufficient workers in the United States "able, willing, qualified, and available" to perform his work and that his employment would not have an adverse effect on wages and working conditions of similarly employed workers in the United States.
The Department of Labor classified Mukadam, who has a degree in food technology and has done research in the area of food toxicity, as a food chemist and denied his application for certification, informing him that it found "(M)any qualified applicants available in this field thru (sic) the American Chemical Society." (Letter of September 1, 1976). However, the actual data relied on by the Certifying Officer was not supplied to Mukadam.
Mukadam twice appealed this decision to a Reviewing Officer within the Department of Labor. He argued that, since his own communications with the American Chemical Society revealed that it had listed only "Several chemists who have background in food chemistry and A few with experience in toxicity studies" (Am.Chem.Soc. Letter of October 15, 1976) (emphasis added), the agency decision that "many" workers were available was unsupported by the evidence.
Both appeals were denied by the Reviewing Officer. In his letter denying the first appeal, the Reviewing Officer simply reiterated the finding below that "many" food chemists were listed in the files of the American Chemical Society. In response to the second appeal, however, the Reviewing Officer himself telephoned three laboratories in the New York area which specialized in toxicity testing, Mukadam's area of expertise. These calls revealed, as the Reviewing Officer informed Mukadam by letter, that "applications are received daily for employment at these laboratories and all are advised that no openings exist." (Letter of December 29, 1976) Accordingly, the second appeal was also denied. In seeking judicial review of the denial of certification, Mukadam again asserts that the original decision was unsupported by the evidence and also that the Reviewing Officer violated agency rules governing the procedures for appeal by conducting an independent survey of the job market.
Standing To Seek Judicial Review
The government contends that Mukadam lacks standing to seek judicial review of the agency's decision since his interest in certification is not " "arguably within the zone of interests to be protected or regulated' " by § 212(a)(14). See, Sierra Club v. Morton, 405 U.S. 727, 733, 92 S. Ct. 1361, 31 L. Ed. 2d 636 (1972). Barlow v. Collins, 397 U.S. 159, 90 S. Ct. 832, 25 L. Ed. 2d 192 (1970); Ass'n of Data Processing Service v. Camp, 397 U.S. 150, 90 S. Ct. 827, 25 L. Ed. 2d 184 (1970). Both the language and legislative history
of § 212(a)(14), it argues, indicate that this section is designed primarily to protect American workers from foreign competition and secondarily to provide American employers with access to a larger labor pool but not to protect the interest of the alien in securing residence and employment in the United States. Consequently, the government asserts that an alien can secure judicial review of a denial of certification only if his employer sues on the alien's behalf. In support of this argument, it cites a number of cases in which standing has been found under § 212(a)(14) to be that of the employer rather than his employee. See, Inter alia, Acupuncture Center of Washington v. Dunlop, 177 U.S.App.D.C. 367, 543 F.2d 852 (1976); Pesikoff v. Secretary of Labor, 163 U.S.App.D.C. 197, 501 F.2d 757 (1974); Digilab Inc. v. Secretary of Labor, 495 F.2d 323 (1st Cir. 1974); Secretary of Labor v. Farino, 490 F.2d 885 (7th Cir. 1973).
The government's analysis of § 212(a)(14) is unduly narrow. While it is undeniable that this section places the burden on the alien, nevertheless, it is part of a statutory scheme which extends to aliens who are professionals the right to seek permanent residence in the United States. Moreover, in 1975, when Mukadam filed his application for certification, the Immigration Act permitted aliens residing in the United States to apply for third preference status (which requires certification) without a specific offer of employment.
It follows that at that time Congress did intend to confer directly on aliens the right to seek permanent residence without the intercession of an employer. It would be inconsistent with this intent to limit judicial review of a denial of certification to aliens whose petitions are joined in by an employer when denial of certification forecloses an alien from seeking a third preference visa.
None of the decisions cited by the government compels a contrary conclusion. In those cases, the courts properly confined themselves to ruling on the narrower ground that an employer's interest is clearly protected by the statute and left open the question whether the alien's interest alone was sufficient to justify standing. Accordingly, we find that Mukadam does have standing to contest the denial of certification.
Did the Agency Decision Constitute an Abuse of Discretion?
A. The Decision of the Certifying Officer
An agency decision may be set aside under 5 U.S.C. § 706(2)(A) as arbitrary, capricious and an abuse of discretion when it is made "without a rational explanation" or "inexplicably departed from established policies," Wong Wing Hang v. Immigration and Naturalization Service, 360 F.2d 715, 719 (2d Cir. 1966). This ordinarily narrow standard of review is all the more restricted in the context of alien immigration, where the burden on the Secretary of establishing sufficient American workers is minimal and has been described in this way:
"Given the presumption of the statute against admission, if the Secretary's consultation of the general labor market data readily available to him suggests that there is a pool of potential workers available to perform the job which the alien seeks, the burden should be placed on the alien or his putative employer to prove that it is not possible for the employer to find a qualified ...