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Making Chennai the single processing centre for the US’ blanket L-1 visas may increase its cost

Posted on November 14, 2011
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blankCome December 1 and the US consulate general in Chennai will be the only consular post in the country to receive and process blanket L-1 category visas. This is the work permit category meant for managers, executives and specialised knowledge professionals transferring to the US within the same company. For financial year 2011, India held No. 1 position in L-1 visas issued with 25,000 or 37% of issuances worldwide.

Blanket L visas are granted to a few select organisations that process more than 25-30 L visas each year and have revenues of over $25 million annually. A firm approved to apply for blanket L gets a fast-track window at the US missions in India and does not need to apply for individual L petitions at the US Citizenship & Immigration Services in Washington DC, which takes more time and is costlier.

Chennai Only Centre

The recent step taken by the US government to make Chennai the single processing centre for blanket L-1 category visas —instead of the four other centres, New Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata and Hyderabad — has been taken to streamline the process. “This is a part of the US government’s ongoing effort to provide efficient visa services throughout India. The centralisation that has been introduced is expected to be a permanent step,” a US embassy spokesperson told ET on Sunday.

Indian IT companies, which are among the largest users of the blanket L-1 visa facility, are concerned that visa costs could go up following the new arrangement. “This move will burden the companies that are leveraging Indian talent with increased visa costs and also cause logistical difficulties. The process will be time consuming and visa costs will increase to include flight costs, lodging and other travel-related incidentals in Chennai, not to forget the productivity loss of 1-2 days for each visa applicant,” says Gagan Sabharwal, deputy director, global trade development, of software industry body Nasscom.

Indian companies which send a large number of staff members to the US on work permits have already been hit by a legislation last year which increased H-1B and L-1 visa fees by $2,000 per visa. “The visa costs for Indian companies will increase further as all the applicants need to travel to Chennai to apply for the blanket L-1 visa. Dependents can, however, apply for L-2 visas at their closest US consulate/embassy to their home,” says Sruthi Sagar Ananthachari, director, corporate shared services India, of IT major CSC.

Advantage of Uniformity

However, there’s one advantage which immigration experts see in the new rule — that of consistent adjudication since all applications will go to Chennai. “Companies that have their visa filing processes and procedures streamlined with the requirements through multiple modules could benefit from the single application centre with redundancies being removed,” says Umesh Vaidyamath, CEO of immigration software company INSZoom.

Some experts are optimistic that this may bring down rejection rates of L-1 visas — which have gone up considerably in recent months — since they will be reviewed by dedicated visa officers with expertise on the specialised knowledge of applicants. “This step is likely to increase efficiencies and could result in speeding up the process. However, we are not aware whether extra visa appointment slots will be made available,” says Poorvi Chothani, managing partner at Mumbai-based law firm LawQuest.

In recent months, the high rejection rates of L-1 visas have been a cause for concern and many are hoping that a dedicated consular team at Chennai to process the blanket L-1 petitions could help in lower rejection rates. “It is too early to tell, but this could provide a higher level of predictability. But it may also increase the percentage of cases denied, even beyond the currently unacceptable level, depending on how conservative a definition of ‘specialised knowledge’ — which is important for L-1 visas — is used,” says Scott Fitzgerald, managing partner, Boston office, at leading global immigration law firm Fragomen.

What are blanket L-1s?

Blanket L visa approvals are granted to companies that use a large number of L-1A and/or L-1B visas. Each blanket approval will be granted for a specific type of employees depending on their specialised knowledge, managerial duties of executive category. When applying for a blanket L, a company need not specify the names of the employees it seeks to employ in L-1 category at the time of making the application.

The blanket petition is approved by the USCIS and then the company submits individual L-1 visa applications at the appropriate consulate with the approval notice. The applicant is required to prove with documents during the personal interview that he or she is suitable to take up the L-1 position mentioned in the petition.

Ishani Duttagupta

13 Nov 2011

http://articles.economictimes.indiatimes.com/2011-11-13/news/30391484_1_category-visas-visa-costs-l-1

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