Fogo de Chao, the chain of Brazilian steakhouses, lost its fight with the federal government over the issuing of certain types of immigration visas to applicants with "specialized knowledge."
In a ruling on Friday, U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton dismissed Fogo's lawsuit against U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. The company sued over the agency's denial of a visa application for one of Fogo's Brazilian chefs. The agency found the restaurant failed to prove the chef had the type of "specialized knowledge" that would make him eligible for the visa.
Fogo was represented by Baker & McKenzie's Carl Hampe and Steven Chasin. Hampe declined to comment. A Fogo spokesperson could not be reached today for comment. A representative of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services also could not be reached.
Fogo's Brazilian steakhouses, known as churrascarias, operate in Brazil and the United States. At each location, according to court filings, the restaurant's staff includes chefs known as churrasqueiros who grew up in a rural region of southern Brazil and specialized in traditional meat preparations. The restaurant said its churrasqueiros train for at least two years at one of the chain's restaurants in Brazil before they're selected for transfers to restaurants in the United States.
In 2010, Fogo filed a visa petition for a churrasqueiro working at one of the company's restaurants in Brazil, Rones Gasparetto. In the application, according to court documents, the company said Gasparetto was a "genuine gaucho" from the southern region of Brazil who had more than two years of experience as a churrasqueiro and had completed a training program. The company applied for a visa for an intracompany transfer filling a position that required "specialized knowledge."
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services denied the application, finding Fogo failed to prove Gasparetto was eligible for the visa.
The Administrative Appeals Office considered the case, finding there wasn't a "bright-line" test for determining whether a visa applicant met the specialized knowledge standard, according to Friday's opinion. In Gasparetto's case, the appeals office found the company failed to show that its Brazilian employees had special knowledge different from other chefs in the Brazilian steakhouse industry or that Gasparetto in particular had any specialized knowledge.
Gasparetto "possesses general cultural knowledge, values, and culinary skills acquired as a result of his upbringing in a rural area of Rio Grande do Sul and due to his family and community traditions," the office found, according to court documents.
Fogo sued the federal government in June 2010. In Friday's opinion, Judge Reggie Walton found that immigration officials and the Administrative Appeals Office acted within their authority and reached reasonable conclusions after weighing the evidence in Fogo's application.