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Senators Urge Mayorkas Not To 'Undermine' L Visa Program

Sens. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) and Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) recently urged Alejandro Mayorkas, Director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, not to propose changes that "would undermine the L visa program" when USCIS issues new guidance on the L-1B "specialized knowledge" standard, expected in the near future. The senators shared their thoughts in a letter sent to Director Mayorkas on March 7, 2012.

The senators said they were concerned that the L-1B visa program, which allows companies to transfer employees with specialized knowledge from their foreign facilities to their U.S. offices, "is harming American workers" because some employers, especially foreign outsourcing companies, "use L-1B visas to evade restrictions on the H-1B visa program." For example, the senators noted, the L-1 program does not have an annual cap and does not include the labor protections of the H-1B program.

In January 2011, the Department of State issued new guidance to consular officers on adjudicating visas under the specialized knowledge category, outlining criteria including (1) the proprietary nature of the knowledge possessed by the visa applicant, (2) whether the visa applicant is "key" or normal personnel, and (3) whether the applicant possesses more skills or knowledge than an "ordinary" employee. The senators also noted that in July 2008, USCIS's Administrative Appeals Office (AAO) considered the definition of "specialized knowledge" and concluded that such employees are "an elevated class of workers within a company and not an ordinary or average employee." The senators advocated adoption of the standards and reasoning articulated in the January 2011 Department of State guidance and the July 2008 AAO decision. "We are concerned that any weakening of the standard would create additional incentives for some employers to use the L-1B visa program in order to circumvent even the minimal wage and other protections for American workers in the H-1B visa program."

A USCIS spokesperson said, "USCIS is currently reviewing its L-1B policy guidance, which is comprised of a series of memoranda dating back to 1994, to assess whether that guidance assists adjudicators in applying the law in new business settings that companies face today."

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