The US is hoping to curb abuse of its short-term L1 work permits for groups by issuing them only through its Chennai consulate that currently processes 40% of such visas issued in India, starting 1 December.
“Fraud remains a concern,” said Anand Krishna, a spokesman for the US consulate in Chennai. “If we are trying to facilitate legitimate travel, then we want to make the visa experience as simple as possible. We want to reduce the incidence of abuse, fraud and instances where the documentation is inadequate.”
The L1 visa, which doesn’t have annual caps as is the case for the longer-term H1B visa, allows local executives and managers (L1A) and workers with specialized knowledge (L1B) to relocate to their current employer’s US office after having worked for at least one year for the firm outside that country. An L1A visa-holder qualifies for faster Green Card processing under the priority worker category.
Close to 25,000 L1 visas, accounting for 37% of approvals worldwide, were issued in India over the past 12 months, making it the leading recipient of such visas from the US, according to the consulate in Chennai.
More such specializations in visa permits across the five US consulates in India may happen, according to an immigration lawyer. Such measures could increase costs and take up more time for Indian firms, which may end up applying for fewer such visas, a software services industry lobby group said by email.
Previously, L-category US visas for groups could be issued in the US consular offices in Delhi, Mumbai, Hyderabad, Kolkata and Chennai. Now, all applicants part of a group applying for an L1 visa will have to travel to Chennai to get the visa.
“In view of this decision, Nasscom believes that this move will, firstly, burden the companies that are leveraging the Indian talent with increased visa costs, and secondly, cause logistical difficulties in management,” Nasscom said. “This measure will defeat the whole purpose of having consular operations at various missions in a country like India and we think that the industry and may result in lesser number of applications from the companies.”
Already India’s share of L1 visas has dropped to 37% in the past year from 43%, as reported in a 2010 Economic Policy Institute paper highlighting abuses of the L visa programme.
L1-holders’ spouses, who are also allowed to work without restriction in the US, and individual (not group) L1 visa applicants can continue to approach any other US consular in India, according to a press release issued by the Delhi-based US embassy.
Still, the move could act as a non-tax trade restriction against Indian firms, said a Mumbai-based analyst. “The US for all its grand notions of free enterprise is implementing a non-tariff barrier that will push up visa costs once again,” said Harit Shah of Nirmal Bang Institutional Equities. “They are trying to show that (Barak) Obama is creating jobs in the US.”
The reason for centralizing the group L1 visa could be the single level of scrutiny such applications face as the company gets prior approval for a batch of L1 visas. As a result, consulates with inadequate background information on companies may fail to detect frauds. The Chennai consulate, which handles a majority of these applications, has the required intelligence to vet these applicants, Chennai consulate’s Krishna said.
“The L1 visa has attracted more attention when no H1B visas were available (the annual cap was reached.) Whenever possible, companies would try to fit their workers into this category,” said Poorvi Chothani, founder of Mumbai-based corporate immigration law firm LawQuest. “The US embassy is probably trying to centralize processes, whereby the staff at one of its five consular posts gains knowledge and acquires expertise in specific categories.”
A Mint report in June revealed widespread misuse of visas in which both Indian and US firms were involved.
Earlier this year, The Hindu sourced classified information from WikiLeaks that revealed an increase in visa fraud in 2008 and 2009. The Chennai-based daily revealed in April that the US Fraud Prevention Programme in India located in its Chennai consulate found Gujarat, Punjab and Andhra Pradesh to be hubs of such fraudulent activities.
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