Barack Obama has announced plans to make doing business in the United States as 'simple and as attractive' as possible by easing the application process for L-1B work visas. The L-1B visa is a non-immigrant visa category which allows international companies to transfer workers with specialised knowledge into the US for up to 5 years, provided they have been employed continuously by the company outside the US for 1 year in the last 3 years. The overseas company will have to show common ownership and control with the US company. There is also the L-1A for executives and managers which has similar requirements and allows entry to the US for up to seven years.
On March 23rd the President told the SelectUSA Investment Summit that 'My administration is going to reform the L-1B visa category, which allows corporations to temporarily move workers from a foreign office to a U.S. office in a faster, simpler way. And this could benefit hundreds of thousands of non-immigrant workers and their employers. That, in turn, will benefit our entire economy and spur additional investment.'
Report shows huge number of L-1B visa denials
Obama's announcement comes on the heels of a damning report by the National Foundation for American Policy (NFAP). Published in March, the study reveals a trend of rising denials for L-1B applicants. Denial rates have rocketed in the past decade; from 6% in 2006, to an unprecedented 35% in 2014. Some groups have been particularly affected, with more than half of Indian applicants - who account for 58% of all applications - being refused a visa. The rise represents a 500% increase, despite there having been no change in regulations.
The report states that 'the current high rate of denials is difficult to understand, particularly since the rate was as low as 7 percent as recent(ly) as...2007'. Strangely, those already working in the US are having their applications turned down most often: 41% of the time, compared with 32% for initial applicants.
Draft L-1 guidance may reduce denial rate
A day after the president's speech, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) released a draft memorandum with new guidance for adjudicators of the L-1B application process. The aim of the guidance is to streamline adjudications by clarifying how adjudicators assess whether an applicant has suitable specialised knowledge.
L-1B Memorandum criticised by experts
However, the document has attracted criticism from lawyers, consultants and industry experts, with many saying that the guidelines do not go far enough. Sanwar Ali of workpermit.com said it is 'perhaps too early to say' whether the memo will make much difference.
The document also promises greater scrutiny will be directed at employers who already have many 'specialised knowledge' employees working in the US. This makes it unclear whether the new guidelines, which come into effect at the end of August 2015 following a public consultation period, will in reality lead to a reduction in the soaring visa refusal rates.
This is not the first time that the US has pledged to combat L-1B denials. The White House promised in 2012, and again in 2014, to ease the application process, though in those cases no new guidelines were introduced. USCIS's new guidance gives some hope, but only time will tell of its effectiveness.
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