The recent increase in scrutiny by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) on L-1 visa petitions has led many employers to revamp their intracompany transferee visa procedures. Certain multinational corporations are able to bypass the standard USCIS application by filing for corporate blanket approval. However, recent trends demonstrate that obtaining and amending existing corporate blanket approval is becoming increasingly onerous.
The Corporate L-1 Blanket Petition is a filing that multinational corporations can make with USCIS to ease the transfer of certain executives, managers, and professional specialized knowledge employees to the United States on L-1 visas. Once a corporation has been issued an I-797 Blanket Approval Notice, qualifying employees have access to a faster and typically less scrutinized process to obtain an L-1 visa than traditional filings with USCIS.
- Faster processing. The corporate blanket petition allows an individual to “bypass” the pre-approval process required with USCIS, which could otherwise take many months to complete. L-1 blanket petitions, in contrast, are made directly with the U.S. consulate or embassy abroad. Under the L-1 blanket process, a transferring employee would schedule a visa interview appointment and bring the petition to the appointment. Once reviewed and approved, the visa would be placed directly in the employee’s passport and returned to their home address. Wait times for visa appointments vary based on location and time of year, but after the appointment, employees will typically receive their returned passports and new L-1 visas within approximately one week.
- Lower level of scrutiny. USCIS has been adjudicating individual L-1 visa petitions, particularly L-1B petitions, with a heightened and potentially burdensome level of scrutiny. Requests for Evidence (RFEs) and reports of denied petitions issued by USCIS are at an all-time high. This can create significant obstacles and delays for the transfer of key employees to the United States. When a corporation has a corporate blanket approval, qualifying individual employees can make L-1 visa applications directly at the U.S. consulate or embassy abroad, bypassing the application with USCIS. While the level of review and approval by each consulate varies, employers will find most consulates to represent a better path for the review and issuance of their L-1 visa application.
The requirements for a corporation to qualify for blanket approval are as follows:
- Company has an office and has been doing business in the United States for one year.
- Company has three or more domestic and foreign branches, subsidiaries, or affiliates that are engaged in commercial trade or services.
- Company has one of the following:
- Combined U.S. annual sales over $25 million;
- Over 1,000 U.S. employees; or
- At least 10 individual L petitions approved in the last 12 months.
- Company is not a nonprofit organization.
Any entity listed on the blanket approval notice may petition on behalf of individual employees to obtain L-1 visas directly at the appropriate U.S. consulate. The transferring employee must meet the standard requirements for either an L-1A managerial/executive position or an L-1B specialized knowledge position. Each employee must have at least one year of experience working for a qualifying entity abroad (i.e., an entity listed on the blanket approval). Note that for L-1B petitions based on the blanket approval, the employee must also be a “professional,” requiring a bachelor’s degree in a field related to the position or its equivalent through a combination of education and/or work experience. Practically speaking, this means that L-1B visa applicants applying for a visa on the blanket petition should hold at least a bachelor’s degree, as well as several years of specialized knowledge experience with the qualifying entity abroad.
How to Obtain Corporate Blanket Approval
To obtain a corporate blanket approval, employers must file a petition with USCIS. If approved, the petition will initially be valid for three years and with extensions it can be valid indefinitely. USCIS has stepped up its scrutiny of blanket petitions, so employers should provide exhaustive evidence detailing qualification for approval. This includes documentation evidencing corporate ownership of each requested entity, as well as documentation detailing that each entity is actively “doing business.” Corporations that currently hold blanket approvals should keep in mind that the blanket should be amended with USCIS after a merger, acquisition, or other corporate restructuring to keep the approval up-to-date for the transfer of key employees to the United States.
Increased Scrutiny on Corporate Blanket Petitions
In keeping with the general trend toward increased scrutiny of corporate blanket petitions, these petitions should include a correspondingly increased amount of evidence demonstrating that all requested entities qualify for blanket approval. USCIS will issue an RFE to request more information on any entity that it does not believe has met all blanket requirements. Typically, USCIS will not question an entity if it is listed as a majority-owned entity on the parent company’s most recent 10-K. If a company is seeking corporate approval after a merger, acquisition, or other corporate restructuring, it should provide a wide range of evidence on those newly-acquired and unlisted entities.
Employers can work to avoid unnecessary RFEs by providing a wide range of evidence covering each entity not included in the 10-K. Evidence should cover two categories: (1) ownership, and (2) “doing business.”
Examples of evidence an employer may use to demonstrate the requested entity meets the blanket ownership requirements include:
- Articles of incorporation
- Annual reports
- Stock certificates
- Purchase agreements
Examples of evidence to demonstrate the requested entity meets the blanket “doing business” requirements include:
- Tax returns
- Audited financial statements
- Sales invoices
- Bank statements
- Third party license agreements
The general trend on the part of USCIS toward increased scrutiny of L-1 visa petitions does not have to mean a decrease in the number of petitions any given employer will have approved. It does, however, mean that employers must be even more careful to select a path that will offer them the greatest chance for success. In most cases that will mean filing for corporate blanket approval in order to take advantage of the accompanying advantages that blanket petitions enjoy, and increasing the documentation they provide to support their petitions.