|Recently, there has been an increase in site visits targeting companies that employ L-1 visa workers. While the USCIS has been routinely conducting similar site visits to companies employing H-1B visa workers, site visits within the L-1 visa category is a recent trend.
Companies that employ L-1 visa workers must be prepared for unannounced USCIS site visits from immigration officers who will conduct L-1 compliance reviews. The purpose of these site visits is for the USCIS to verify the information provided to USCIS in the visa application materials. The site inspector will often interview personnel at the work site to confirm the L-1 visa worker’s work location, hours, salary, and duties. In many instances, the inspector will speak directly with the L-1 visa worker and his/her supervisor.
Here’s how a routine USCIS site visit works. A site inspector will unexpectedly appear at the employer’s premises, without advance notice. The inspector will likely ask to speak with the human resources manager or the company official who signed the visa application. With permission from the employer, the site inspector will tour the facilities. The purpose is to determine if the business appears to be legitimate and engaged in appropriate business activities. Note that in most situations, there is no advance notice of a site visit. Site visits typically take less than one hour.
If a site inspector asks questions which are beyond the scope of the visa application or would require internal research, it is acceptable for the employer to ask for additional time to respond. If follow-up is required, it is important that the employer quickly respond with the requested information or documentation to ensure that the site inspector’s Compliance Review Report can be completed in a timely manner.
- *IMPORTANT* If at any point the employer or L-1 visa worker would like to stop cooperating with the site inspector and his/her requests, USCIS should end the inspection at the employer’s request. However, the site inspector will likely complete the Compliance Review Report based only on the information that was gathered before the inspection was terminated and will indicate that the interview was terminated upon request. Note that USCIS may follow-up at a later time, but it is strongly encouraged that all employers cooperate with USCIS and be as transparent as possible in order to ensure a positive outcome.
- *IMPORTANT* Site inspectors should have proper identification and USCIS credentials, and should show these to the employer. Employers should always ask for the identification of any persons claiming to be acting on behalf of the government. Again, the site inspector will want to speak with the employer (specifically, the individual who signed the visa application). If s/he is not available, the site inspector may seek out an appropriate alternative individual, who has authority within the company.
Employers should discuss the possibility of such unexpected government inspection with their human resources (HR) or other appropriate personnel. If an employer wishes to have an attorney present, please notify the site inspector of this request and contact RBL immediately. The site inspector should be made aware of this request and if possible, an RBL attorney will try to be present at the site visit, or provide guidance to the employer via telephone.
Common Red Flags for Site Inspectors:
- The L-1 visa worker’s salary in pay statements/tax records/internal records, do not match the amount stated in the visa application.
- The address of the L-1 employee’s work location in the visa application does not match with the actual work site.
- Virtual offices or empty offices without equipment are listed as the L-1 employee’s place of employment.
- The L-1 employee lacks a work email or work phone number.
Advice to the Employer:
- It is important that employers have policies and procedures in place in case of a site inspection. Human resource departments, staff, and company signatories should be aware of the potential for unannounced site visits and should be prepared to follow the employer’s response plan.
- Make sure employers and employees are 100% confident that everything included in the L-1 visa application pertaining to them is accurate.
- Employers should ask for and record the credentials of the site inspector. The employer should record the name, title, and contact information of the inspector to ensure that any post-visit communications are directed toward the appropriate agent. The employer should also keep a record of all requested information and questions asked by the site inspector.
- Employers should be aware that material changes to the terms and conditions of the L-1 visa worker’s employment require the filing of an amended petition. Generally speaking, a material change would include a substantial change in job duties or a transfer to another office or company within the group organization.
- If during the site visit, the employer or employee is unsure of an answer to a question, they should ask for additional time and offer to follow-up with the officer, rather than guessing. All questions can be forwarded to RBL for further guidance.