The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has released a guidance memo on L-1B visas for “specialized knowledge” workers, finally fulfilling a promise made in 2012. Issued as a draft, the agency will accept comments through early May and the final version will go into effect at the end of August 2015.
Employees are said to hold “specialized” or “advanced” knowledge if their expertise isn’t easily transferrable to another employee. The L-1B visa category is one of few tools available to multinational companies to transfer staff with specialized knowledge from a foreign branch to a related U.S. office, but recent dramatic increases in L-1B denial rates have frustrated many businesses. This guidance offers modest clarification to the current USCIS concept of “specialized” and “advanced” knowledge and includes a checklist of acceptable conditions for L-1B applications.
Recent denial rates for L-1Bs have been staggering. Based on recently released data from USCIS, the National Foundation for American Policy (NFAP) found that the denial rate for L-1B petitions increased from six percent in 2006 to an historic high of 35 percent in 2014, even as applicable laws and regulations remained unchanged.1 Incredibly, the denial rate for L-1B petitions for Indian employees stood at 56 percent for 2012 through 2014, compared to an average denial rate of 13 percent for all other nationalities. The NFAP report also found that the number of applications received by USCIS dropped by 23 percent between 2012 and 2014, demonstrating that denials have discouraged U.S. employers from transferring these skilled individuals into the United States.
The American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) welcomed the draft of the long-awaited policy memo. “Uneven adjudication of L-1B visa applications over the last several years have stymied businesses trying to ramp-up production or services in the United States, hurting the economy and costing American jobs,” notes AILA President Leslie Holman. “The tenor and tone of the memo is a positive step forward, reiterating and expanding on many of the principles in previous memos. We hope for a more seamless, straightforward, and consistent adjudication system for L-1B visas. Training USCIS staff on the guidance laid out in this memo will be critical to making a real difference in how applications are evaluated, and essential to bringing common sense back to this process.”2
The principal concerns about the memo are whether certain restrictive adjudication practices will become institutionalized and if Service Center personnel will follow the guidance on recognizing an earlier approval for the same employer and employee when the approval was granted by a U.S. Consulate for a blanket L-1B petition.
1“L-1 Denial Rates Increase Again For High Skill Foreign Nationals.” National Foundation for American Policy, NFAP Policy Brief, March 2015.
2 “Welcome Changes to Business Visas but Implementation Means Everything.” American Immigration Lawyers Association, March 25, 2015. http://www.aila.org/advo-media/press-releases