New rules for L-1B visas that are under consideration by U.S. immigration authorities could open floodgates to foreign IT workers, according to Senators Grassley and Durbin.
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A pair of high-ranking senators are warning that possible changes to immigration rules could make it easier for foreign tech pros and other workers to obtain U.S. employment visas that are supposed to be reserved for individuals with so-called specialized knowledge.
"It has come to our attention that you are planning to issue new guidance on the L-1B visa 'specialized knowledge' standard in the near future. We write today to urge you not to propose changes that would undermine the L visa program," wrote Senators Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), in a bipartisan letter last week to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) director Alejandro Mayorkas, a copy of which was posted on the Senators' websites.
The L-1B is a sub-classification within the L visa program, which allows companies to transfer employees from a foreign office to a U.S. location. The L-1B requires that the employee possess "specialized knowledge," which current immigration rules define as "beyond the ordinary and not commonplace" in the industry in which the worker is employed.
Grassley and Durbin said USCIS is considering rule changes that would soften the definition of specialized knowledge, so that foreign workers who merely possessed knowledge comparable to other workers in the industry in question would qualify.
"A comparison to the knowledge held by workers in the company's industry generally would be unacceptable and would only undermine the specialized knowledge standard established by Congress," the Senators said.
Critics of the L-1B program argue that, even under the current rules, it's often misused by offshore outsourcing companies to transfer tech workers into their U.S. offices and then on to customer sites. Backers, including major software vendors like Microsoft, say it's necessary in order to bring key personnel into the country.
A Grassley staffer said USCIS' plan to revise L-1B policy guidance on specialized knowledge was recently brought to the Senator's attention. "We learned about it through other people, we have a document," said Beth Levine, Grassley's press secretary. "These special interests have been putting forward proposals to director Mayorkas and Senator Grassley wanted to be sure that Congress' intent was heard and not just these special interest groups."
Levine declined to say which "special interests" are supposedly behind the campaign to relax the L-1B rules.
A spokesman for USCIS confirmed that the agency is hoping to issue new policy guidance on L-1B specialized knowledge by the end of the month. "USCIS has actively engaged with the public on the L-1B classification, including most recently at a forum at the end of January hosted by the Chamber of Commerce," the spokesman said in an email.
"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," the spokesman said.
The L-1B visa allows foreign workers to stay in the U.S. for up to five years. Unlike the H-1B visa, it is not subject to numerical caps.
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