Given the significant and increasing ties between the US and Indian economies, it is not surprising that companies with offices in India seek to transfer personnel into the United States. However, to do so is not a simple matter, especially over the past year.
Recently, I obtained data from the State Department that show L-1 visas (used for intracompany transfers) issued by U.S. posts in India declined by 28 percent between 2010 and 2011. Yet during the same time period, L-1 visas issued at U.S. diplomatic posts in the rest of the world increased by 15 percent. (See the report here.)
L1 visas are used by companies to transfer from overseas to the United States executives, managers and professionals with “specialized knowledge.” It is believed one of the reasons for the increase in denials centers around consular officers in India adopting a new, stricter interpretation of “specialized knowledge.” Immigration law defines “specialized knowledge” as “special knowledge of the company product and its application in international markets” or “an advanced level of knowledge of processes and procedures of the company.” A company must have employed the L-1 applicant for one year or more continuously within the past 3 years.
Request for Information
On October 25, 2011, the U.S. embassy in New Delhi issued a press release with the headline, “US Mission to India Reports 24% Year-on-Year Increase in H-1B Visas Issued.” The press release stated, “The U.S. Mission to India saw H-1B (specialized skills work visa) issuances in India increase 24% between the U.S. Government’s Fiscal Year (FY) 2011 and FY 2010 . . . This 24% increase is tied to the highest ever H-1B application and issuance rates in the history of the US Mission to India, and illustrates the booming nature of US-India business relations.”
Something appeared to be missing from the press release – information on whether L1 visa issuance increased or decreased in 2011. Curiously, the press release contained only a single reference to L-1 visas, stating: “India also remains the leader in issuances of L1 (intracompany transfer) visas, issuing more than 25,000 L-1s in FY 2011 – or 37% of issuances worldwide.”
Yet without the exact figure on 2011 or the data on 2010, there would be no way of knowing what happened to L1 visas over the past year. Many companies had been reporting increased denials but hard data from the US Department of State remained elusive.
The Data on L-1 Visas
In response to a request for data, the State Department sent me the information on L1 visas issued at U.S. posts in India in 2010 and 2011, as well as L1 visas issued at other posts around the world. The results appear in Tables 1 and 2.
Why Is India Different?
The data appear to be proof that something strange is going on in the L1 visa issuing process in India, which the State Department in the past has denied. The release of the data is likely to spur additional inquiries into why L1 visa issuance is declining in India, while in the rest of the world it is rising. Since every U.S. diplomatic post operates under the same set of laws there is so far no easy answer to the question:
Why are U.S. consular officers in India apparently denying a higher proportion of the L-1 visa applications that come to them than consular officers in other countries?