L-1 Visas Offer Some Companies an H-1B Alternative

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Based on last year's experience, in which the cap for H-1B visas was exceeded on the first day it began accepting applications for them, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services is probably dreading tomorrow's beginning of this year's lottery.


There will be plenty of unhappy companies that don't get the coveted visas. Making a bad problem even worse, the Los Angeles Times reports that some companies file multiple applications for each potential employee to improve their odds of getting a document. Having received at least 500 duplicate applications in 2007, the immigration department has since closed that loophole.


Intel, one of the biggest U.S. recipients of H-1Bs, expects to submit about 400 applications, roughly the same as last year. Though most of its applicants received visas in the last lottery, there is no guarantee that will happen this time, the company's director of workforce policy tells the Times. She says:

We could get all or none.

That kind of uncertainty keeps some companies, primarily SMBs, from participating in the lottery. SMBs don't have the kind of hiring alternatives as Microsoft, which last year opened a software development facility in Canada, at least partly to address its difficulties in recruiting and hiring non-U.S. natives.


An option pursued by some companies, reports eWEEK, is the L-1 visa. Although it can be used only by employees with managerial or certain other specialized skills, there is no annual cap or requirement that employees be paid a prevailing wage for their work. (The latter rule has occasionally been an issue for companies with H-1B employees. India's Patni Computer Systems last June was ordered to pay $2.4 million in back wages to visa holders.)


Says the CEO of VISANOW, an online immigration processing company:

... I've heard of situations where an H-1B visa holder might be paid $42,000 for a job, but the L-1 visa [holder] only making $12,000."

Like the H-1B visa, most of the biggest recipients of the L-1 are Indian outsourcing specialists, including Tata Consultancy Services, Cognizant Technologies, Satyam, Wipro Technologies, Hindustan Computers and Patni Computer Systems. An exception was IBM, which was awarded 1,237 L-1 visas in fiscal 2006. Other U.S. companies that received a notable number of the visas were Intel (394), HP (316), Oracle (176) and Microsoft (169).


Unlike the H-1B visa, which has spawned numerous legislative proposals, the L-1 appears to have largely escaped the attention of U.S. lawmakers, according to eWEEK.