Posts Tagged ‘Pilot Program’

L-1 Pilot Program Follow-Up Meeting With USCIS and USCBP

Friday, October 12th, 2018 by W. Scott Railton

I attended a follow-up engagement meeting today with USCIS and CBP at the Blaine Peace Arch, concerning the L-1 Pilot Program.  Here is a brief summary of the meeting.

The L-1 Intracompany Transfer visa/status is a work authorization granted to certain Executives, Managers, and employees with “Specialized Knowledge.” It is an immigration tool used for multi-national businesses, to move key personnel around. The L-1 status is a part of Chapter 16 of NAFTA and the new USMCA agreement, and is also authorized by the Immigration and Nationality Act.

The L-1 Pilot Program was commenced on April 30, 2018, and terminates at the end of October. The basic goal of the program is to promote uniformity of adjudication of petitions by first routing them to USCIS’s California Service Center. Canadians have the option of choosing to submit these applications in person at a port of entry, or by mail/courier to USCIS.

15 submissions in 6 months; 80 Percent RFE Rate

At the meeting, USCIS reported they have had 15 submissions over the past six months. Ordinarily, they were getting at least that many a week at the Blaine crossings, and I think many more. Conclusion: nobody is using the program. This must be a conscious decision by Canadian businesses and their attorneys. Indeed, attorney comments during the meeting said as much. “People are voting with their feet,” one said.

USCIS reported that they issued 12 Requests for Additional Evidence (RFE) on the 15 cases. So far, they’ve approved seven cases and denied three, with the other five pending. They “outright” approved three cases, without RFEs.

RFEs are very common for USCIS right now. Even so, an 80 percent RFE rate is very high, even for USCIS. RFEs mean substantial extra expense for employers (thousands of dollars sometimes), as well as lengthy delays (months), with no certainty of eventual approval. Such is immigration these days.

Pilot cases submitted to USCIS seem to be handled similarly to Premium Processing cases at the Service Center. Premium Processing is the program where employers pay $1410 for 15 day initial adjudication. In this case, petitioners did not have to pay this expense, but of course the process is automatically slower than the same day adjudication some Canadian companies are used to. Most of the cases have been receipted within days—the agency reported two or three days. When an RFE is issued, typically the Petitioner is given three months or so to respond.

Attorneys seemed universally opposed to the program. East Coast attorneys, calling in on the phone, expressly said they would not like to see this program move their way. Representatives of both agencies suggested they might try expanding the program to the Vancouver Airport or other ports of entry, but no decision has been made.

The meeting itself was well organized, with video and phone lines open for all, and both agencies seemed to genuinely want feedback, offering many opportunities for comment.

Concerns with Process, Concerns with Adjudication

From my point of view, there are two larger issues at play here: process and adjudication.

From a process standpoint, Canadian businesses receive no benefit from taking away the option of on-the-spot adjudication. There are times when this is very valuable, such as when an important employee of a Canadian company needs to work in the U.S. fast (e.g. this weekend). Also, there is a benefit to being able to make your case to a live officer, rather than have everything done on paper. Frankly, USCIS has gotten too far into the weeds with adjudications, abandoning the preponderance of evidence standard applicable to all nonimmigrant work authorization petitions.

On the adjudication side, the agencies are pushing for “uniformity of adjudication.” They say that USCIS has the expertise for adjudicating L-1 petitions, which is true at some level. However, border adjudications are nothing new, and they have worked for Canadian/U.S. businesses for decades. Uniformity is also a myth–USCIS adjudicators handle matters very differently, from cubicle to cubicle.

Perhaps the biggest concern for Canadian businesses in this niche is USCIS’s extensive use and abuse of the RFE. Their templates are many pages long, and employers can spend the same amount of time they might in preparing an environmental impact statement, just trying to explain the technical aspects of one of their experts and why they are “specialized” or how they qualify as a “manager”. The RFEs are bogging down USCIS too, which has record wait times on many very-ordinary types of cases.

What Next?

Speakers at the meeting said they will take the feedback from the meeting, confer, and make next decisions.  They could close the program, but I think I suspect the Pilot Program is not done yet. I think CBP would like to punt adjudications to USCIS, and will keep looking for ways to do so.  I would like to see the agency embrace this responsibility as part of their northern border mission, because its good for business and U.S.-Canadian relations.  That may be wishful thinking, I’m afraid. My concern over the next few years is that the U.S. government may try to move all immigration benefits adjudication to USCIS, including TNs.  We’ll keep an eye on it.

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Posted in General, Scott Railton |

L-1 Pilot Program Coming to Peace Arch and Pacific Highway Crossings

Thursday, March 29th, 2018 by W. Scott Railton

The Peace Arch and Pacific Highway Crossing in Blaine, Washington are implementing a “Pilot Program” for L-1 Intracompany Transfer petitions, beginning on or about April 30th. L-1 Intracompany transfers are employees who are Executives, Managers, or employees with specialized knowledge who are transferred from a commonly owned foreign company to a U.S. company. For decades, Canadian beneficiaries of L-1 petitions have been permitted to submit their applications at Class A Port of Entries, and receive immediate adjudication. The Pilot Program, while introduced with promises of efficiencies, threatens a long-standing benefit for Canadian businesses.

On Monday, I attended a briefing session on a Form I-129 Pilot Program for Canadian L Nonimmigrants Pilot Program, held at the Peace Arch. The briefing was hosted jointly by U.S. Customs and Border Protection and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, and was led principally by USCIS Director L. Francis Cissna. The meeting was attended by more than a dozen officials of CBP, USCIS, and about ten attorneys representing stakeholders. The meeting was open to phone participants as well.

Director Cissna said that the stated intention of the L Pilot Program is to try to move Port of Entry adjudications out of CBP’s hands and into USCIS’s hands. Director Cissna views this work as USCIS work, since it involves immigration benefits. CBP doesn’t seem happy with the function (my observation), as they consider themselves an enforcement agency first and foremost. There were indications that if the Pilot Program works, perhaps TN adjudications can be handled on the same process.

Under the Pilot Program, the petitioning company will send the petition to USCIS with a special cover sheet. USCIS will then try to adjudicate the applications with the cover sheet “super fast…faster than premium processing,” in an effort to provide adjudication service similar to what is now available at the Port of Entry for Canadians. Approvals and Requests for Evidence will be sent to employers directly. While USCIS says it would be best to wait for the approval, Applicants can go down to the Port of Entry with just a receipt notice, and granted admission if the matter is adjudicated favorably. This was all described as “good organizational management.”

The goal is to launch the program at the Peace Arch and the Pacific Highway by April 30th, and then test run the program for 6 months. If it works, they’ll look at expansion to other northern ports of entry, and may need to commence the public notice and comment processes required under the Administrative Procedures Act.

The Pilot Program is exclusive to Blaine, and so Canadian applicants who want immediate Port of Entry adjudication may still go to other Port of Entries. The process will be mandatory for Canadians at the Peace Arch and Pacific Highway. The process includes L blankets. The California Service Center is the designated USCIS service center for adjudication.

Some interesting statistics were mentioned during the meeting. We were told there are about 6200 Canadian L petitions submitted each year, which is about one-sixth of the overall total. The Blaine POEs are not handling too many per week now. One person said about half a dozen; another said about 50 per month. Issues raised by attorneys included the Request for Evidence rate at the USCIS Service Centers, which is very high; as well as the benefit from instant adjudication at the Port of Entry v. the issues in presenting a petition there sometimes.

This could end up being a step back for Canadian businesses who may clearly qualify and benefit from on-the-spot adjudication. There was a time when port of entry adjudication was a pretty quick process, and this method of application really helped Canadian businesses quickly get the people they need into the U.S. temporarily. USCIS has created a whole lot of red tape for legitimate businesses in recent years, and this presents another opportunity for government delays. A more favorable view of the program is that this allows pre-adjudication by USCIS of petitions, at a rate faster than Premium Processing’s fee based 15 day guarantee.

If its not obvious, I am skeptical about the Pilot Program. In the big picture, this Administration is taking every step it can to cut legal immigration, in addition to its focus on illegal immigration. There are some in the Administration who only want to “put a pause” on immigration, and seem to have decided that most if not all immigration is bad. The L visa is a poor target, as the visa is dedicated to executives and managers—people who typically create jobs, which leads to a healthier U.S. economy.

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Posted in General, Scott Railton |