The Odess Theater is seen on May 22, 2019, on the campus of the Sitka Fine Arts Camp, which operates the former home of Sheldon Jackson College. (Photo by Flickr user Jasperdo/Creative Commons)

The Odess Theater is seen on May 22, 2019, on the campus of the Sitka Fine Arts Camp, which operates the former home of Sheldon Jackson College. (Photo by Flickr user Jasperdo/Creative Commons)

Sitka Fine Arts Camp withdraws immigration lawsuit after feds reconsider issue

A key employee for one of Alaska’s major arts organizations has received a federal immigration visa, ending a lawsuit over the case.

Sitka Fine Arts Camp is withdrawing its federal immigration lawsuit after immigration officials approved the visa needed for its technical theater director.

Attorney Nicholas Olano filed a request for voluntary dismissal Wednesday, less than a month after he filed suit on behalf of the camp, a 50-year-old institution that conducts courses on the grounds of the former Sheldon Jackson College in Sitka.

“Things are back again to where they should be,” he said by phone on Friday.

The lawsuit involved Denush Vidanapathirana, who runs programs for the camp and is in charge of the Sitka School District’s multimillion-dollar performing arts center.

Vidanapathirana, who holds a Sri Lankan passport, needed a visa to continue working in Sitka, but the federal government initially determined that the theater manager’s skills didn’t meet the standard for an H-1B visa, given to people who have special technical skills.

Sitka Fine Arts Camp sued, appealing that decision, and it was reversed quickly. H-1B lawsuits are relatively uncommon in Alaska; they’re more common in the Lower 48, where high-tech companies frequently seek international employees.

“I think the (assistant U.S. attorney) did something magical because they didn’t even answer or respond (to the lawsuit),” Olano said, “but the case got reopened.”

Olano said Vidanapathirana is already back on the job.

• James Brooks is a longtime Alaska reporter, having previously worked at the Anchorage Daily News, Juneau Empire, Kodiak Mirror and Fairbanks Daily News-Miner. This article originally appeared online at alaskabeacon.com. Alaska Beacon, an affiliate of States Newsroom, is an independent, nonpartisan news organization focused on connecting Alaskans to their state government.

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