Comparing L-1 Visas to the H-1B

It’s less than a week until the April 1 filing date for fiscal year 2009 H-1B visas. Do you know where your petitions are?

If you’ve been tasked with finding new foreign employees at the managerial level or with a highly specialized knowledge, you’re probably keenly aware that the demand for H-1Bs is exceeding the current supply of 65,000 annually.

But are there alternatives available, and if so, how do they work?

Solutions provider Visanow says there are definitely alternatives, and one option is the L-1 visa. The Chicago-based company says this is because there is no cap on the number of L-1 visas issued per year.

The L-1 visa was designed as a temporary visa option for specialized workers employed by multinational companies. It has expanded in popularity with an average of 315,000 being issued over the past three years, the company says.

“The L-1 visa was originally designed to allow multinationals or foreign companies that are affiliated with U.S. organizations to hire managers, executives, or employees with specialized knowledge,” says Visanow chief executive officer Robert Meltzer.

Watch Your Step

Companies should be warned: this increase in popularity also means that the government has started cracking down on L-1 visa applications.

“It appears that the L-1 applications are now being subjected to higher scrutiny in the application process at some of the service centers by the USCIS [U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services] application reviewing officers, particularly IT consulting companies and even more so, Indian IT consulting companies,” says Meltzer.

“Both the L-1A and L-1B have very clear and specific requirements, so there is a lot on the table for the CIS to review to determine if the case fits,” he says.

The L-1A is used for hiring managers or executive-level positions while the L-1B is for hiring foreign workers who have specialized knowledge of the company’s product and its application in international markets or have an advanced level of knowledge of processes and procedures of the company.

Meltzer says applicants need to provide as much information and documentation as possible to help the adjudicators understand the position and its requirements.

“USCIS adjudicators are not usually familiar with the nature of the specialized or advanced knowledge, so applications have to be as specific, detailed, and thorough as possible when speaking to the employee’s skills,” he says.

As in any situation, some employers may be exploring and trying the L when it’s not the “best” solution.

“With the limit on H-1Bs, many companies are encountering un-chartered waters in regard to hiring the skilled foreign workers they need, especially with the increased employment focus on IT and tech workers,” he says.

“Depending on the individual and specific job duties, the L-1 can be a great fit. For others, it’s not going to work and the USCIS will see this through the extensive requirements that must be met for an L application,” says Meltzer.

Elaine Rigoli has nearly 15 years of experience managing content and community for various B2B and consumer websites. Elaine has written thousands of business and technology articles and has been quoted in The Wall Street Journal and eWeek, among other publications.

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