Sen. Grassley calls for new L-1 visa probe

Raises concern that a 2006 report on L-1 visa was ignored

WASHINGTON -- U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R.-Iowa) has asked the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) inspector general to investigate the L-1 visa program, saying he is increasingly concerned about loopholes in it.

Grassley on Tuesday released a letter to Charles Edwards, the DHS inspector general, asking him to dust off a 2006 inspector general report about the visa program and find out why the report's recommendations "were never implemented."

Grassley, who has been pressing for reforms of the H-1B visa, said he wants to find out the number of L-1 visa holders now living in the U.S.

The L-1 is used for multinational companies to bring employees into the U.S. and doesn't have has many restrictions as the H-1B visa, such as a prevailing wage requirement.

In his letter, Grassley wrote that "there's growing concern by many experts that companies are turning to L visas when the supply of H-1B visas are low. There is also a general consensus that L visas are being used to bring in 'rank and file' employees rather than top-level professionals with truly 'specialized knowledge.'" Specialized knowledge usually means advanced knowledge or expertise in a field.

In the 2006 study, the DHS's inspector general report referred to the L-1 visa as "the computer visa." It reported that from 1999 to 2004, nine of the 10 firms that petitioned for the most L-1 workers were computer and IT-related outsourcing service firms that specialized in labor from India. The number of L-1 petitions approved from 1995 to 2005, in most years, was just over 40,000. In 2001, nearly 60,000 were approved.

The report also found that the visa program was vulnerable to abuse and made several recommendations, including requiring immigration enforcement officers to assist in "checking the bona fides" of L visa petitions; putting in place a process for overseas verification of a petition; and clarifying what was meant by specialized knowledge, a requirement for the visa similar to what is asked for in H-1B visas.

Grassley said he wanted another look at the program because, "I have grown increasingly concerned that loopholes within the L-1 visa program have led to manipulation and broad overreach by those who use the program and have resulted in a great deal of fraud and abuse within the program."

Patrick Thibodeau covers SaaS and enterprise applications, outsourcing, government IT policies, data centers and IT workforce issues for Computerworld. Follow Patrick on Twitter at @DCgov or subscribe to Patrick's RSS feed . His e-mail address is pthibodeau@computerworld.com.

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