Reports have surfaced that United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is ‘quietly expanding’ its site visit program. The program involves USCIS agents conducting unannounced visits at the work sites of immigrants on certain types of US work visa to check compliance with US visa rules.
The USCIS last ‘publicly’ announced plans to expand its site visit program in 2014, which included check-ups on workers with an R-1 religious worker visa and L1A visas for managers and executives. When the site visit program expansion was announced in 2014, the USCIS made it clear that site visits were exclusive to employers using the L1A visa for managers and executives.
However, according to a report published by Bloomberg Law, there’s evidence that USCIS is turning up unannounced at some sites of employers using the L1B visa for specialised knowledge workers as well.
Sanwar Ali workpermit.com comments:
L1 visa regulations both for L1A executives and managers and for L1B specialized knowledge workers are extremely complex. It is very easy for an employer to fall foul of the regulations. Even if an employer has taken all reasonable steps to make sure that they comply with the L1 requirements it is still possible that an L1 employer will face problems. The US visa regulations are probably the most complex in the World. Congress should take steps to simplify the US visa system. Compliance with US visa law is difficult when hardly anyone understands the visa requirements and the visa requirements are so open to interpretation.
USCIS refuses to confirm ‘new’ site visit US visa checks
It’s understood that the USCIS has declined to comment on the ‘new’ site visit program. Instead, the agency directs people to its website and the ‘Administrative Site and Verification Program.’ While the website confirms that USCIS conducts L1 visa site visits, it does not differentiate between L1A and L1B visas.
The website does state that site visits will only occur following the approval of US visa petitions. However, some employers claim that USCIS agents have performed site visits prior to a petition for an L1B visa extension being approved.
A statement released by the American Immigration Lawyers’ Association (AILA) said that ‘L1B visa site visits are becoming more frequent and occurring across more than one State.’ Referring to a couple of cases in particular, the AILA said: “Site visits were conducted by a USCIS officer, as opposed to the prior practice of using government contractors.”
“For the first time, the officer conducting the site visit asked for information about all other employees on work visas,” the AILA said. According to the AILA, if the USCIS detects one instance of fraud, other US visa applications will come under scrutiny. Employers can expect a review of every visa that they have.
Although it’s unclear whether the USCIS has launched a new site visit program, it is apparent that the US government agency is aiming to identify incidents of fraud across all US visa categories.
Trump administration being tougher on L1 visas and other visa categories
It’s suspected that the alleged expansion of the site visit program to the L1B visa category has been orchestrated by the Trump administration. While much of the focus on targeting foreign workers has been aimed at the H1B visa category, it appears that President Trump has quietly turned his attention to the entire employment-based visa repertoire in the US.
The H1B visa enables companies to recruit temporary foreign workers to fill “specialty occupations,” for example, positions that require a bachelor’s degree. As part of Trump’s ‘Buy American, Hire American’ executive order, the federal government is now obligated to devise a plan that ensures the coveted H1B visa is distributed to the most skilled workers.
According to the Bloomberg Law report, lawmakers and policy makers get into a habit of ‘lumping H1B and L1B visas together when discussing potential incidents of fraud across US visa programs.
Evidence would suggest that the Bloomberg Law report is correct. For years, Senators Charles Grassley, a Republican representing Iowa and Richard Durbin, a Democrat representing Illinois, have attempted to introduce never-passed legislation that would overhaul both programs to add better protections for US workers.
Unaware of expanded US visa site visits
A statement released by Durbin’s office offered no comment on reports of increased site visits by the USCIS, saying they were ‘unaware’ of such activity. Meanwhile, Grassley’s office remained tight-lipped on the issue.
The AILA said: “There’s certainly greater emphasis on securing verification regarding most US business immigration programs. It would come as no surprise to see more emphasis placed on site visits, plus the extreme vetting of applicants for these types of US visas. In terms of the USCIS’ anti-fraud measures, this may just be the tip of the iceberg.”
While the site visits are not being viewed as untoward, the secrecy surrounding them has been called into question. The ‘stealth’ the USCIS is using to enforce its anti-fraud initiatives has been labelled extreme, and the AILA in particular wants to see a more ‘transparent process.’
The AILA said: “We understand the need to double-check the information on a visa petition, but transparency would always be helpful.”
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