Administration lawyers ‘reinterpret’ the law to greatly increase visas for technology firms.
Last week Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Chuck Grassley hit back against Obama’s Department of Homeland Security (DHS) after the agency pushed through, during a congressional recess, a major immigration item that has long been on the technology lobby’s wish list. According to a new “policy memorandum,” Obama’s immigration authorities will now be redefining the term “specialized knowledge” as it applies to the L-1B visa, a program previously aimed at bringing over highly sought-after “intracompany transferees” from American firms’ affiliated companies abroad. No doubt burned by Congress’s “stubborn” refusal to raise the cap on annual cap on H-1B visas (which are “skilled” temporary non-immigrant worker visas) the Obama administration, at the behest of Big Tech lobbyists, has told its agency lawyers to think up a clever alternative. In a strongly worded letter to Obama’s immigration authorities, Grassley, a 35-year Senate veteran, closely outlines the legal and practical faults of the new policy and demands answers from the agency regarding its purported authority for the move.
The L-1B visa, a cousin of the H-1B, applies to so-called “specialized knowledge” employees, usually in the IT industry, who may be transferred to the U.S. from their foreign affiliated employer to work here for up to five years. Often, as with H-1B holders, these “temporary” workers obtain sponsors and apply for permanent status. When President Obama announced his general plans to “reform” the program last spring, he stated that his goal was to allow more workers to move from foreign offices into the U.S. “in a faster, simpler way.” Americans should get behind the proposal, he stated, as it “could benefit hundreds of thousands of nonimmigrant workers and their employers,” which “in turn, will benefit [the] entire economy.” Setting aside concerns about whose “economy” will actually be benefited — the public’s or the special interests’ — the problem with this new “reform” is that the L-1B intracompany-transferee program was never meant to be a mass temporary-worker program. On the contrary, as Grassley’s letter states, Congress’s intent was to ensure that the class of persons eligible for such visas would be “narrowly drawn.” This would seem to comport with the purpose of the program, which is to attract only “key employees” with “specialized knowledge.” Grassley backs this up by noting a statement from the acting deputy director of U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS) under George W. Bush, Robert Divine, who stated in 2006 that there’s no indication that Congress ever intended to depart from its position that the visa is intended for “key employees” only and that the “class of persons eligible for such nonimmigrant visas is narrowly drawn and will be carefully regulated.” As Grassley reasonably asks, how can a company “have many L-1B workers doing identical ‘specialized knowledge’ work?” In other words, can everyone be considered special?