US L1 visa refusal rate continues to increase under Trump

Sanwar Ali comment:

It has become more and more difficult to obtain L1 visas.  Unless it is for a very large company with blanket filing the documentation requirements are quite enormous.  Both the L1A visa for Executives and Managers and the L1B visa for Specialized knowledge workers is difficult to obtain. 

Indian and Chinese nationals are unable to come under the E2 visa and E1 visa scheme.   Therefore in many cases the only option left is the L1 visa.

According to United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) data, fewer L1 visa intracompany transfer applications were approved by the government agency in its 2019 financial year. Some analysts have mostly attributed the continued decline in L1A and L1B visa approvals to incorrect documentation submitted by US visa applicants. However, in reality it is very difficult to know for sure how to meet the requirements for the L1 visa category.

USCIS figures show that in FY19, 71% of L1A and L1B visa applications were approved – a decline compared to FY18 – when 77.8% of applications were successful. The USCIS financial year runs from October to September of the following year.

L1 visa commonly used by tech firms

The US L1 visa is most commonly used by tech firms - mainly Indian companies with operations based in America – to transfer employees to the US from other countries. The L1 visa category is also used by small businesses to establish a company in the US.

Analysts indicate that on most occasions L1A and L1B visa rejections can be attributed to compliance issues, including a failure to provide the right certifications or other necessary documents needed as part of an application.

In the past, the rejection of L1 visas was rare. However, since the Trump administration introduced procedures increasing the scrutiny of US visa applications, which seem to focus on minor details and disregard the bigger picture, L1A and L1B visa rejections have soared. It seems increasingly common for USCIS to look for ways to deny visas.

H1B visa approval rates increase slightly

While L1A and L1B visa rejections rates have increased, approval rates for the coveted US H1B visa have risen, albeit only slightly.

84.8% of H1B visa applications were approved in FY19, compared to 84.5% in FY18, according to USCIS data.

Despite the slight rise, the 84.8% approval rate represents a considerable decline compared to previous years. In 2015, approval rates for the H1B visa were as high as 95%, with Indian companies the main beneficiaries, accounting for more than two-thirds of all visas issued.

However, under the Trump administration, H1B visa applications have been subject to heavier scrutiny with a greater number of requests for evidence (RFEs) and higher rejection rates.

USCIS data shows that RFEs were sought in 40.2% of cases from sponsoring employers to justify H1B visa applications, representing a 2% increase compared to the previous fiscal year, which ended on September 30, 2018.

Despite the need to provide additional documentation, the number of successful visa applications is considerably lower than in the past. In 2015, 83.2% of H1B visa applications were successful with RFE. In FY19, the percentage of applications approved with RFE amounted to 65.4%.

According to USCIS data, Indian IT firms have been overtaken by US tech companies like Amazon as the biggest users of H1B visas. The rejection rates of H1B visas for leading Indian tech companies continues to rise and reached more than 50% in the first half of 2019. Rising rejection rates have been attributed to Trump’s ‘Buy American, Hire American’ policy.

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