USCIS Updates L-1B ‘Specialized Knowledge’ Guidance
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has issued interim policy guidance on L-1B “specialized knowledge” adjudications that supersedes and rescinds certain prior L-1B memoranda. USCIS said it is issuing this memorandum now for public review and feedback. . USCIS will finalize the guidance effective August 31, 2015. The memo provides guidance on how L-1B petitioners may demonstrate that an employee has specialized knowledge. In the case of off-site employment, it also clarifies how to comply with the requirements of the L-1 Visa (Intracompany Transferee) Reform Act of 2004.
Among other things, the memo notes that a beneficiary must possess either special or advanced knowledge, or both. Determining whether a beneficiary has “special knowledge” requires review of the beneficiary’s knowledge of how the company manufactures, produces, or develops its products, services, research, equipment, techniques, management, or other interests. Determinations concerning “advanced knowledge,” on the other hand, require review of the beneficiary’s knowledge of the specific employing company’s processes and procedures, the memo states. While the beneficiary may have general knowledge of processes and procedures common to the industry, USCIS’s focus is primarily on the processes and procedures used specifically by the beneficiary’s employer. With respect to either special or advanced knowledge, the petitioner ordinarily must demonstrate that the beneficiary’s knowledge is not commonly held throughout the particular industry or within the petitioning employer. As discussed in detail in the memo, however, such knowledge need not be proprietary in nature or narrowly held within the employer’s organization.
The memo notes the following non-exhaustive list of factors USCIS may consider when determining whether a beneficiary’s knowledge is specialized:
- The beneficiary is qualified to contribute to the U.S. operation’s knowledge of foreign operating conditions as a result of knowledge not generally found in the industry or the petitioning organization’s U.S. operations.
- The beneficiary possesses knowledge that is particularly beneficial to the employer’s competitiveness in the marketplace.
- The beneficiary has been employed abroad in a capacity involving assignments that have significantly enhanced the employer’s productivity, competitiveness, image, or financial position.
- The beneficiary’s claimed specialized knowledge normally can be gained only through prior experience with that employer.
- The beneficiary possesses knowledge of a product or process that cannot be easily transferred or taught to another individual without significant economic cost or inconvenience (because, for example, such knowledge may require substantial training, work experience, or education).
- The beneficiary has knowledge of a process or a product that either is sophisticated or complex, or of a highly technical nature, although not necessarily unique to the firm.
- The memo notes that specialized knowledge cannot be easily imparted to other individuals.
Commentary. The Alliance of Business Immigration Lawyers notes that some language on page 14 of the memo could still snare L-1Bs working at third-party clients, and this will continue to plague Indian-heritage IT companies.
Workers at third-party sites must be implementing the specialized knowledge of the petitioner’s unique products or services. Specialized knowledge derived from customized products or services rendered to the client may complement but cannot substitute for specialized knowledge of the petitioner’s products, services, or methodologies. Sometimes the specialized knowledge is intertwined. For example, the petitioner customized the product or application for the client, and the L-1B is being sent to the United States to upgrade it. Even though the product or application was rendered to the client, the beneficiary possesses specialized knowledge of the product that was customized for the client. This fact pattern could potentially cause problems.
The memo, which includes details on types of evidence to present and information on off-site employment, is available as PDF. Comments are due to USCIS by May 8.