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Big Takeaways From The New L-1 Visa Petition Data

25 Oct

By Allissa Wickham – Law360

In its latest data release in support of President Donald Trump’s “hire American” push, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services has revealed which companies are using the L-1 visa program to transfer employees to the U.S. Here are insights from the data dump, including which companies have been dominating the program.

Having already released a trove of information on H-1B visa users, USCIS has now pulled back the curtain on which companies are using L-1 visas — another major type of business visa. Specifically, L-1A visas allow U.S. companies to transfer managers or executives from a foreign office to a U.S. office, while L-1B visas allow a company to transfer an employee with “specialized knowledge” from a foreign office to a location in the U.S. Unlike H-1B visas, however, there isn’t a yearly cap for L-1 visas.

On Oct. 12, USCIS released data on approved L-1 petitions, sorted by employer, for both fiscal years 2015 and 2016. Below are four quick takeaways from the information:

Top Users Are IT Firms

The biggest users of the L-1 program in the past two fiscal years were IT consulting firms. Tata Consultancy Services Ltd. topped the list for both FY15 and FY16, getting 1,606 approved L-1 petitions in FY15 and 1,615 in FY16. These figures include both initial and continuing employment, and both L-1A and L-1B categories.

In second place behind Tata is another major IT company: Cognizant Technology Solutions US Corp., clocking in at 1,079 approved L-1 petitions in FY15 and 1,337 in FY16. Although the third-place users differ between the years, there’s a notable difference in the number of petitions secured by them and the upper-tier users.

In FY16, for instance, third-place user Infosys had 277 total approved petitions, which is over 1,000 fewer L-1 petitions than were approved for Cognizant that year.

Similarities In H-1B Usage

The prevalence of IT firms in the L-1 visa category mirrors a similar trend in the H-1B visa arena. USCIS previously released data on which companies received approved H-1B petitions in the 2015 and 2016 fiscal years, and the three major information technology companies emerged as top users.

In the H-1B sphere, however, Cognizant dominated, rather than Tata. Specifically, Cognizant nabbed at least 15,500 approved H-1B petitions in fiscal 2015, while Infosys and Tata each walked away with at least 7,900.

Those companies were also dominant users in fiscal year 2016, with Cognizant raking in at least 21,400 approved petitions, Infosys nabbing at least 12,700 and Tata coming in with at least 11,200.

L-1A Visas: The New Favorite?

For those who have been keeping on eye out for data on the L-1 program, the fact that IT companies are heavy users of it won’t come as a surprise. A 2013 U.S. Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General report contained a chart on the biggest L-1 employers for FY 2002-2011, and Tata and Cognizant were both at the top of the list, followed by IBM India Private Ltd. and Wipro Ltd.

What’s interesting, however, is that overall Tata and Cognizant used far more L-1B petitions than L-1A during that period. According to the OIG chart, Tata had 7,571 L-1A petitions and 18,337 L-1B petitions in that time frame, while Cognizant had 1,521 L-1A petitions and 18,198 L-1Bs.

Compare that to the recent L-1 data, and the companies now appear to have a preference for L-1As — the category for manager transfers, rather than employees with specialized knowledge. Last fiscal year, for instance, Tata had 730 continuing L-1A petitions, compared with just 71 continuing L-1B petitions, as well as 799 initial L-1As compared with 15 initial L-1Bs. Cognizant also appeared to be leaning more toward L-1As: It had a total of 1,220 approved L-1As in FY15 and 116 L-1Bs.

“My big takeaway is I’m surprised the L-1Bs are so low and the L-1As are as high as they are for some of the firms,” said Ron Hira, an associate professor at Howard University, who has been critical of outsourcing firms.

Hira also noted that “a single firm bringing in 800 new managers a year seems like a lot for any firm.”

But while the data points to IT firms as heavy users, they were certainly not the only companies on the lists, with names like Procter & Gamble Co. and Nestle USA Inc. showing up in smaller numbers. Angelo Paparelli of Seyfarth Shaw LLP also highlighted the issue of approved petitions and their potential link to job creation.

“It might be important to know if a user of the L-1 program, whether large or small, was able to create jobs for American workers,” Paparelli said. “Then we would know what’s really happening. But as usual, this is the fodder for development of the meme around displacement of U.S. workers.”