L-1 visa process draws criticism from within USCIS Read more: L-1 visa process draws criticism from within USCIS
Posted on September 11, 2013
Immigration officers struggle with the hazy definition of “specialized knowledge” when judging L-1 visa applications, a report from the Homeland Security office of inspector general says.
A multinational company can transfer an employee from a foreign office to a U.S. office on an L-1 visa if the employee serves in a managerial or executive role, or if the employee has specialized knowledge. But the term “specialized knowledge” is highly subjective, according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services officers whom the OIG interviewed.
The officers “told us that when adjudicating specialized knowledge petitions, the general principle is ‘you know it when you see it,'” says the report (.pdf), dated Aug. 9.
Decision making is inconsistent as a result, and petitioners often don’t understand why their applications were denied, the report says.
At the time of the OIG review, adjudicators had recently gone through a training to clarify what exactly specialized knowledge is. They described the training as “very generic” and remained unable to apply the term consistently, the report says.
USCIS approved more than 33,000 L-1 petitions in fiscal 2011, down from a peak of about 57,000 in 2007. India, the United Kingdom, Japan, Canada and Mexico accounted for three-fourths of entries into the United States on L-1 visas between 2003 and 2010.
Canadians have a distinct L-1 application process that the OIG says has proven problematic.
They apply for L-1 visas at the U.S.-Canada land border or at Canadian airports, meaning they deal with Customs and Border Protection officers instead of USCIS officers.
L-1 applications are already complicated for USCIS officers, and the majority whom the OIG interviewed said they didn’t think customs officers were adequately trained to adjudicate them.
Many customs officers agreed with those concerns, the report says.
Some customs officers voiced concerns that that L-1 visa processing distracts them from their main mission, which is to keep illegal drugs, terrorists and undocumented immigrants out of the country.
Unsuccessful Canadian applicants can simply drive to the next bridge or tunnel into the United States and try their application with a different officer. Since the L-1 decision-making process is inconsistent, the strategy can pay off, the report says.
Customs officers suggested that USCIS place adjudicators at a few of the busiest entry points along the border or require L-1 hopefuls to obtain visas from U.S. consulate offices in Canada.
The report also notes concerns about a rule that lets foreign companies with no U.S. offices apply for L-1 visas to send employees to start a new office in the United States.
“New office petitions and extensions are inherently susceptible to abuse,” the report says. “Petitioners can present speculative, even imaginary information.”
Petitioners have disingenuously filed new office petitions and listed their family members as employees solely to try and move their families to the United States, the report says.
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