Technical Glitch Clogs Up U.S. Visa System


A technical glitch has hampered the U.S.'s ability to issue visas around the globe, stranding thousands of foreign businesspeople, high-tech workers, performers and athletes trying to travel into the country.

The data-processing system experienced significant performance issues, including outages, between July 19 and July 23. The database was brought back online on July 23, but the system still isn't fully functional, according to the State Department. Experts estimate tens of thousands of visas are working their way through the pipeline.

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"This really is unprecedented," said Jonathan Ginsburg, a Fairfax, Va., immigration attorney. "Even one day's delay in visa issuances—especially on a systemic basis—creates an enormous backlog that, in turn, taxes the resources of each visa-issuing post because, of course, they're busy issuing visas every day." More than 200 U.S. consular posts world-wide issue a total of several thousand visas each day.

Mr. Ginsburg said he has clients waiting in Asia and Europe without any idea when they will be able to travel. Their passports are in the possession of U.S. consular authorities, he said.

Arek Nizamian, a Los Angeles attorney, said a Korean client approved for an investor visa had planned to be in California on Monday to close on the purchase of a business. Despite passing an interview at the consulate, he hadn't received his passport with the visa stamp.

"This is a disaster," said Mr. Nizamian. "The deal is in jeopardy." On Wednesday, he said, the client received an email saying that technical problems "are affecting operations globally" and that officials couldn't predict how long the delay will last.

The Consular Consolidated Database contains millions of visa files and photographs and links to other federal agency security databases, such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation's fingerprint-identification system. The State Department also runs facial recognition and name checks through the system. In 2013, the Bureau of Consular Affairs issued 9.1 million nonimmigrant visas and nearly 500,000 immigrant visas.


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Three largest US ports seek ways to resolve chassis crisis

Joseph Bonney and Bill Mongelluzzo | Jul 21, 2014 9:35AM EDT

The busiest container gateways on the U.S. East and West coasts are trying to bring order to the chaos of intermodal chassis. It won’t be quick or easy.

Chassis have emerged as a top obstacle to improved productivity at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, and New York-New Jersey. Truckers waste time and money delivering a container at one terminal and a chassis somewhere else. Terminals frequently run short of chassis during busy periods. Out-of-service chassis and billing problems are constant headaches.

For five years, the industry has been scrambling to adjust to the changes ocean carriers unleashed when they transferred most of their chassis to leasing companies and quit providing customers with “free” equipment in a bundled service. Truckers or shippers now have primary responsibility for chassis, as always has been the case in other countries.

Ocean carriers’ disengagement from chassis has coincided with explosive growth in ship sizes and carrier alliances that have created unforeseen strains on the system. The industry has been adjusting on the fly, and dealing with a kaleidoscopic array of models for chassis supply.

“There is no one solution. If you ship across the country, you have to adjust to seven different models,” said Steve Rubin, a former CEO at Princeton, New Jersey-based chassis lessor TRAC Intermodal who has studied the industry closely. Rubin, principal at InterPro Advisory, this month was named interim CEO of Horizon Lines.

Some clarity is starting to emerge. Virginia created a centrally managed portwide pool that’s now in its third phase. The Ocean Carrier Equipment Management Association runs six regional co-op pools with 136,000 chassis at South Atlantic, Gulf and Pacific Northwest ports, and in inland regions.

Chassis supply is a tougher nut to crack at the largest U.S. port gateways — Southern California and New York-New Jersey. Each has a hodgepodge of chassis pools that don’t serve all terminals. The disjointed system is a cause and effect of wasted truck trips, slow equipment turnover and congested terminals.

“It’s a circular situation — chassis shortages cause delays at terminals, and delays at terminals cause chassis shortages,” said Tom Heimgartner, president of Best Transportation in Port Newark, New Jersey.

Port and industry leaders in Los Angeles-Long Beach and New York-New Jersey are stepping up efforts to develop neutral or “gray” pools that would allow chassis to be interchanged freely and possibly stored off-dock instead of at terminals.

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Typhoon Rammasun (Glenda) Leaves the Philippines; Warnings Issued for South China

Published: Jul 16, 2014, 7:20 AM EDT

Forecast Path

Deadly Typhoon Rammasun has its sights set on South China and northern Vietnam after ripping through the Philippines Tuesday and Wednesday. Even as the typhoon lashed the Philippine capital with wind and rain, Chinese authorities issued early warnings for its southernmost coastlines.

Typhoon Rammasun (also known as Glenda in the Philippines) made its first landfall in the Philippines Tuesday while intensifying. The typhoon is now churning across the South China Sea heading toward parts of China and Vietnam.

The worst of Rammasun's winds appear to have passed just south of the Philippine capital.

As of 5 a.m. EDT Wednesday in the U.S., maximum sustained winds had decreased to an estimated 90 mph, according to the Joint Typhoon Warning Center based in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. This made Rammasun the equivalent of a Category 1 on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale.

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West Coast port labor talks resume today

Larry Thomas -- Furniture Today, July 11, 2014

LOS ANGELES — A strike by some truck drivers at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach has added a bit of drama this week to contract talks between West Coast dockworkers and terminal operators, but reports indicate all West Coast ports are continuing to operate even though the dockworkers’ latest labor contract expired July 1.

Talks between the International Longshore and Warehouse Union and the Pacific Maritime Assn. are scheduled to resume today following a three-day break to allow union officials to attend unrelated contract negotiations in the Pacific Northwest.

The truck drivers’ strike, which began Monday at four shipping terminals, briefly shut down the Los Angeles and Long Beach ports when ILWU members refused to cross the truckers’ picket lines. However, longshoremen returned to work after only a few hours off the job when an arbitrator ruled the dockworkers’ contract didn’t allow them to engage in a sympathy strike, according to the Los Angeles Times.

The truckers, who are not represented by the ILWU, claim they are illegally classified as independent contractors and not employees — a designation that means employers don’t have to pay Social Security taxes and unemployment insurance premiums for them, among other things.

Gene Winters, president of Global Link Logistics, said the truckers strike has not affected his company’s operations, but said the Long Beach and Los Angeles ports continue to be very congested because of increased shipments leading up to the ILWU contract expiration and a shortage of chassis.

“All carriers are experiencing chassis shortages at the port, and you can’t pick up a container without a chassis,” said Winters, whose company has numerous furniture industry customers.

The labor contract covers more than 14,000 dockworkers at 29 West Coast ports. Both sides have pledged to continue talks without a work stoppage.

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Striking LA-Long Beach port truckers return to work

Bill Mongelluzzo, Senior Editor | Jul 13, 2014 12:29PM EDT  

LONG BEACH, Calif. — The ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach should be free of trucker picketing this week thanks to a deal brokered Saturday by Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti.

Garcetti convinced three harbor trucking companies and striking drivers at those companies to agree to a cooling-off period while the Los Angeles Harbor Commission investigates allegations regarding worker safety, poor working conditions and unfair labor practices.

The drivers, who are a minority of all of the drivers at Total Transportation Systems Inc., Green Fleet Services and Pac-9 Transportation, are attempting to affiliate with the Teamsters union. The Teamsters-affiliated group Justice for Port Truckers announced on July 7 that drivers had launched an “indefinite” strike in the harbor.

Retailers and other cargo interests are concerned because the trucker picketing took place while contract negotiations have been under way between the International Longshore and Warehouse Union and he Pacific Maritime Association.

The ILWU and PMA failed to negotiate a new contract by the July 1 deadline, although both sides have issued statements saying negotiations would continue and cargo would keep moving through the Southern California port complex.

The truck driver picketing caused one short-lived disruption of cargo handling at the ports. The ILWU last week extended its previous contract for three days while negotiators traveled to the Pacific Northwest to participate in talks for a grain contract. That contract is unrelated to the coastwide contract negotiations involving longshoremen who handle containers at all of the major West Coast gateways.

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ILWU, employers agree to 72-hour break in talks

JOC Staff | Jul 07, 2014 11:15PM EDT

The International Longshore and Warehouse Union and U.S. West Coast waterfront employers have agreed to take a 72-hour break from negotiations to allow the union to attend “an unrelated negotiation” in the Pacific Northwest.

The six-year contract, which expired July 1, was be extended during the break from 8 a.m. today and through Saturday, the ILWU and Pacific Maritime Association said in a terse statement released Monday night. The announcement comes hours after the Teamsters union protested outsides marine terminals at the Los Angeles-Long Beach port complex, raising fears, which proved unfounded yesterday, that protestors would erect picket lines and the longshore would refuse to cross the lines.

According to the statement: "The parties have agreed to take a 72-hour break from negotiations on a new coast-wide contract while the ILWU attends to an unrelated negotiation taking place in the Pacific Northwest. During this break, starting at 8 a.m. on Tuesday, July 8, through 8 a.m. on Friday, July 11, the parties have agreed to extend the previous six-year contract, which expired last week. The PMA and ILWU are negotiating a new contract covering nearly 20,000 longshore workers at 29 West Coast ports."

Cargo operations at the busiest ports in the nation continued unimpeded yesterday despite Teamsters’ threats of an “indefinite strike” against three harbor trucking companies. The Teamsters protestors distributed flyers accusing harbor trucking companies of misclassifying drivers, but they didn’t block access to the terminals. 


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Port truck drivers picket harbor-area trucking companies

More than 120 truck drivers at the Los Angeles and Long Beach ports walked off the job Monday morning, organizers said, launching an indefinite protest against what they say are widespread workplace violations.

The picket lines are the largest demonstration yet against several regional truck companies that haul freight from the nation's largest port complex. Drivers argue they are improperly classified as independent contractors, leaving them with fewer workplace protections and lower pay than if they were company employees, protest organizers said.

Unlike previous protests, organizers haven't set an end date. Monday's picket lines, backed by Teamsters Local 848, target three harbor-area companies: Total Transportation Services Inc., Green Fleet Systems and Pacific 9 Transportation.

It is the fourth such protest in the last year. Drivers plan to picket at the firms' trucking yards and then follow the rigs to port terminals. The protests had not disrupted operations at the Port of Long Beach as of 8:30 a.m., a port spokesman said. At the Port of Los Angeles, operations were also unaffected as of 9 a.m., a spokesman said.

The International Longshore and Warehouse Union and the Pacific Maritime Assn., which represents employers, are negotiating a new agreement after a six-year deal at 29 West Coast ports expired July 1.

It wasn't immediately clear if dockworkers would honor Monday's picket lines. 

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Labor talks for U.S. West Coast ports to continue despite end of deal

LOS ANGELES Tue Jul 1, 2014 11:18pm EDT

(Reuters) - Labor negotiations between operators of West Coast port terminals and the union representing nearly 20,000 dock workers will continue, even though a six-year labor agreement expired on Tuesday, both sides said.

Labor talks at West Coast ports typically extend beyond the contract expiration date, but retailers had expressed nervousness at the impending expiration of the contract.

Officials from both the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA), which represents the port employers, and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU), which represents dock workers, have said they do not anticipate labor disruptions.

"While there will be no contract extension, cargo will keep moving and normal operations will continue at the ports until an agreement can be reached between the Pacific Maritime Association and the International Longshore & Warehouse Union," the two organizations said in a joint statement.

The National Association of Manufacturers and the National Retail Federation in a recent report estimated a 10-day work stoppage at West Coast ports would cost the U.S. economy $2.1 billion a day and result in the loss of 169,000 jobs.

The talks involve 29 ports along the length of the U.S. West Coast, including major hubs in Los Angeles and Long Beach in Southern California and Seattle and Tacoma in Washington state.

Key issues in the talks have included rising healthcare costs and the use of outside contract labor.

Article from Reuters


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Threat of Costly West Coast Port Shutdown Spurs Pay Talks

Jul 1, 2014 12:42 AM ET

Twelve years after a labor dispute closed West Coast ports and cost the U.S. economy $1 billion a day, negotiators on both sides want to avoid a repeat that could be twice as expensive.

Talks between the International Longshore and Warehouse Union and the Pacific Maritime Association may go on for weeks without any disruption after the contract for about 20,000 dockworkers at 29 ports expires today at 5 p.m. Pacific time. A strike or lockout at ports whose operations contribute to 12.5 percent of gross domestic product would be a blow to the economy and could be a public relations disaster for a union whose members earn from $25 to $40 an hour. 

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