USCIS Promotes L-1 Foreign Worker Program with Bundling Techniques

By David North on November 9, 2011

USCIS does not simply permit the wholesale displacement of American workers by exploited foreign ones – it actively promotes such activity.

The latest example of its hucksterism on behalf of one of the least attractive foreign worker programs is its publication of a handy little "how-to" kit on the best ways for corporations to bring L-1 (Intracompany Transferee) visa holders to this country in bunches. The USCIS word is "bundling."

It reminds me of grocery store ads in which cut-rate items are proclaimed to be "Cheaper by the Dozen."

The L-1 program is not as well publicized as the H-1B program, but it is, by at least one numerical indicator, a bit larger. The ever-reliable 2010 Yearbook of Immigration Statistics shows in that year there were 502,732 admissions of L-1 workers at the ports of entry, compared to 453,763 for the H-1Bs. Looking back over the prior years' admissions data one can see that the 2010 H-1B entries were about average for the prior four years, while those of the L-1s were up about 100,000 a year compared to the same period.

In addition to the half million L-1 nonimmigrant workers there were almost 200,000 L-1 spouses and children and, to add to the impact of the L-1 program on the U.S. labor market, L-1 spouses (L-2s) can work, while H-1B spouses (H-4s) cannot.

There are several reasons why the L-1 is so popular with multi-national corporations; first, there are absolutely no demands in the program that any effort be made to fill the U.S. jobs with U.S. workers; second, there are no wage standards of any kind; and third, it allows the multi-nationals to bring to the U.S. workers it already knows, and has ties with, from their work for the same companies overseas.

Further, unlike the H-1B program, there is no interaction with the U.S. Labor Department, which is a bit more vigilant about labor market issues than USCIS, and there are no ceilings or delays in bringing in the L-1s to this country, as there are in the H-1B program.

Now, as if all those corporate benefits were not enough, USCIS has published last week its bundling memo. In addition, there is a "stakeholder" memo from USCIS on the same subject, which begins with these corporate-flavored words:

In today's global economy, USCIS recognizes that businesses often need to temporarily move multiple employees to the United States for particular projects which draw upon their specialized knowledge . . . grouping such [L-1] petitions together may streamline and improve the adjudication process.

Setting aside the split infinitive for the moment, the agency then proceeds to tell employers who want to avoid the American labor force exactly how they can bundle together the L-1 applications for presumably still faster, usually positive, governmental decisions.

First, the USCIS staff sent out at least two versions of the bundling document, then those efforts were doubled and redoubled as all the interest groups (such as immigration lawyers and their organizations) immediately jumped on the announcement and passed on the message to their client groups. (To get an immediate sense of this, Google the words "bundling L-1 petitions" and see what you get on the screen.)

Meanwhile – and this will be the subject of a future blog – the Economic Policy Institute, the Washington think tank, and its nonimmigrant worker program scholar, Daniel Costa, have published a highly useful report on this foreign worker program: "Abuses in the L-1 Visa Program: Undermining the U.S. Labor Market".