Recently, US Citizenship and Immigration Services released new information on L-1 petitions for fiscal years 2015 and 2016. The L-1 visa allows companies to transfer foreign employees (and their families) from an overseas office to the United States for a period of three to seven years. L-1A workers are executives and managers who transfer to company offices in the United States, and L-1B workers are specialized workers, not necessarily managers, who "possess deep knowledge of a company's systems, processes, technologies, or products and services."
It is common for L-1 visa holders to obtain green cards and become legal permanent residents on a path to citizenship. The L-1 is a nonimmigrant visa, but the law allows the alien to have "dual intent" of a "temporary" work assignment and eventual permanent residency. L-1 managers and executives who demonstrate "high value to the U.S." may transition to an employment green card category known as EB-1C, which is in the highest priority employment green card category.
The L-1 visa program is highly useful for employers to bring over managerial employees and fast-track them on the path to citizenship. L-1 visas have significantly fewer restrictions than other popular foreign-labor visas, such as the H-1B program. The L-1 visa has no cap, the workers on the L-1 visa do not require Department of Labor certification for impact on U.S. workers, there are no rules on pay rates, family members are eligible for work permits, and the route to a green card is more direct and predictable than is the case for H-1B workers (the other main professional guestworker visa). Many experts believe that employers looking to swap lower-cost foreign guestworkers for U.S. workers have increasingly turned to the L-1 program in recent years to avoid the increased regulation of the H-1B program. In addition, concerns have been raised that some information technology service companies use the visas to import cheaper, rank-and-file workers rather than to transfer actual managers and executives to new assignments.
The visa reports tally the total number of individuals in a given year who are issued a visa in any of the L categories. The transferring employees receive L-1 visas and their dependents receive L-2 visas. Visas are different than petitions, which the recent data release reported on. Petition applications are filed with USCIS by the company that wishes to transfer overseas employees to offices in the United States. Visas are only given following a petition's certification by USCIS. The petition numbers reflect only new applications for transfers, which explains why the petition numbers in a given year are less than the total number of L visas actually circulating.
Overall Visa Numbers
Before diving into the recent petitions data, it is helpful to understand the size of the L-visa category. In every year since 2000, more than 100,000 people were issued L-visas.
The State Department listed a total of 165,178 L-category visas in 2016, a small increase from 164,604 in 2015.
In each of those years, spouses and children accompanying L-1 employees outnumbered the actual workers. In 2016, the actual employees totaled 79,306, whereas those on the L-2 visa, their spouses and children, totaled 85,872. The year 2015 showed similar rates, with spouses and children outnumbering the actual employees 86,067 to 78,537.
Most of the L visa holders came from either Asia or Europe, who together in 2016 accounted for 130,929 of the 165,178 total visas, or just shy of 80 percent of all L visas.
The USCIS Data Release
The data released by USCIS tracks the number of approved petitions per employer. This data is useful because it shows which companies utilize this visa category the most.
One note concerning the data: "Per USCIS best practices, units of less than 10 are aggregated so as to limit the possibility of the de-anonymization of data. 'D' represents data withheld to protect privacy." This means that there are a number of companies whose total approved petitions lists only D, meaning fewer than 10.
For total petitions, I counted any company with a "D" designation as having only one approved petition. This means that the calculated total number of approved petitions is likely higher than that which I have estimated.
This estimate does not affect any of the top 10 companies, only those with fewer than 10 approved petitions.
In 2016, USCIS approved (at least) 26,108 petitions to 15,018 employers seeking employee transfers. In 2015, USCIS approved 25,530 petitions to 14,361 employers. That's a petition increase of 2.2 percent between 2015 and 2016. Below, I have listed two-year totals to determine the top companies requesting intra-company transfers.
|Tata Consultancy Services Ltd.
|Cognizant Tech Solutions
|Teaneck, New Jersey
|IBM India Private Ltd.
|Armonk, New York
|London, United Kingdom
|Hewlett Packard Enterprise Company
|Palo Alto, California
|Tech Mahindra Ltd.
Seven of the top 10 companies requesting L-visa petitions list their corporate headquarters outside of the United States. The largest importers of L-visa employees were: Tata Consultancy, Cognizant Tech Solutions, and IBM, including both the India subsidiary and the parent corporation.
All of the top 10 companies, with the exception of Deloitte, are mainly information technology service providers. Technology-related industries make up the vast majority of L-visa companies, which explains why the tech industry continues to lobby policymakers to broaden the definition of the L-1B category and to refrain from imposing more regulations. Reports indicate that L-1B workers are often paid significantly below the standard rate that Americans earn for the same positions.
This data release is important because it provides more transparency on the use of these programs that affect U.S. workers. This data also confirms a trend seen in the State Department visa breakdown: The L-visa category is slowly, but steadily, growing. It would be helpful if USCIS expanded its disclosure to include the average salaries of L-1A and L-1B employees as well as the success rate of L-1A employees transitioning to green cards through the EB-1C program.