Matter of G- Inc.: Clarifying the Role of the Function Manager Under the L-1 Visa

By: Cyrus D. Mehta and Sophia Genovese

The Administrative Appeals Office (AAO) recently adopted a decision, Matter of G- Inc., Adopted Decision 2017-05 (AAO Nov. 8, 2017), providing important guidance to U.S. employers who transfer function managers under the L-1 intracompany visa. The L-1 visa allows a U.S. employer to transfer an executive or manager (L-1A) or a worker with specialized knowledge (L-1B) from a foreign subsidiary or affiliate.

As corporate structures are changing from hierarchical to flat in a globally interdependent world, the role of the function manager, who manages a function rather than people, has become increasingly relevant under L-A visa classification. A flat organization has few or no levels of management between management and staff level employees. The flat organization supervises employees less while promoting their increased involvement in the decision-making process. Building upon momentum gained from its decision in Matter of Z-A-, Adopted Decision 2016-02 (AAO Apr. 14, 2016), the AAO in Matter of G- held that:

(1) To support a claim that a beneficiary will manage an essential function, the petitioner must establish that the function is a clearly defined activity and is core to the organization.

(2) Once the petitioner demonstrates the essential function, it must establish that the beneficiary’s position meets all criteria for “managerial capacity” as defined in 101(a)(44)(A) of the Act. Specifically, it must show that the beneficiary will: primarily manage, as opposed to perform, the function; act at a senior level within the organizational hierarchy or with respect to the function managed; and exercise discretion over the function’s day-to-day operations.

Under its prior decision in Matter of Z-A-, the AAO held that an L-1A intra-company manager who primarily manages an essential function can also be supported by personnel outside the United States within an international organization who perform the day to day administrative and operational duties. This is possible in the internet age where communications can take place online and through Skype rather than face to face in a physical location. The foreign national manager seeking an L-1A visa extension in Matter of Z-A-, was the President and Chief Operating Officer of the U.S. Petitioner whose parent company was in Japan. The USCIS Service Center denied on the ground that only a small number of employees who worked in the U.S. would support the manager and relieve him from performing the duties of the function. The key issue on appeal was whether the Petitioner established that this manager would be employed in a qualifying “managerial capacity” pursuant to INA § 101(a)(44)(A). The AAO reversed the Service Center’s decision, noting that the Beneficiary would continue to rely on the support of eight staff abroad and two in the U.S. to relieve him of day-to-day operational and administrative activities. The AAO stated that despite the fact that the Beneficiary “may be required to perform some operational or administrative tasks from time to time, the Petitioner established by a preponderance of evidence that the Beneficiary will primarily manage an essential function, while day-to-day, non-managerial tasks will be performed by a combined staff of 10 employees of the Petitioner and its parent company, located in the United States and Japan, respectively.” Matter of Z-A-, at 7.

In its most recent decision in Matter of G-, the AAO further elaborates upon the contours of the “function manger.” Although Matter of G- was decided within the context of INA § 203(b)(1)(C) (where a U.S. employer can petition to permanently transfer a qualified foreign employee to the United States to work in an executive or managerial capacity), the AAO stated in its decision that the function manager analysis equally applies to L-1A function managers. Matter of G-, at 2, note 6.

The foreign manager seeking immigrant classification under INA § 203(b)(1)(C) in Matter of G- was the Director, Financial Planning and Analysis (FP&A) at a large multinational technology corporation. The company first transferred the Beneficiary to the U.S. on an L-1A visa to seek business opportunities and foster growth of the company in the U.S. markets. After a few years of success, the company decided to petition for the worker to permanently reside in the U.S. under INA § 203(b)(1)(C). The Petitioner explained in their I-140 petition that the Beneficiary would continue to direct and develop revenue forecasts and analysis for the entire company, lead mergers and acquisitions, and oversee strategic pricing analyses, among other managerial duties. However, the USCIS denied the Form I-140, finding that the Petitioner did not establish that the Beneficiary would be employed in a managerial role. It is not unusual for one Service Center of the USCIS to approve the L-1A visa and another Service Center to deny the I-140 petition.  Upon review, the AAO reversed, and sought to clarify the role of a function manager.

INA § 101(a)(44)(A) defines “managerial capacity” as:

[A]n assignment within an organization in which the employee primarily-

(i) manages the organization, or a department, subdivision, function, or component of the organization;

(ii) supervises and controls the work of other supervisory, professional, or managerial employees, or manages an essential function within the organization, or a department or subdivision of the organization;

(iii) if another employee or other employees are directly supervised, has the authority to hire and fire or recommend those as well as other personnel actions (such as promotion and leave authorization) or, if no other employee is directly supervised, functions at a senior level within the organizational hierarchy or with respect to the function managed; and

(iv) exercises discretion over the day- to-day operations of the activity or function for which the employee has authority. A first-line supervisor is not considered to be acting in a managerial capacity merely by virtue of the supervisor’s supervisory duties unless the employees supervised are professional.

(emphasis added).

In its decision, the AAO noted that “essential function” is not defined anywhere in the INA. Instead, it relied on the Merriam-Webster Dictionary definitions of “essential” and “function” in proceeding with their analysis, concluding that an essential function must be a core activity of a petitioning organization. Relying on these definition, the AAO first found that the Petitioner must “(1) describe with specificity the activity to be manage, and (2) establish that the function is core to the organization.” Matter of G-, at 3. The AAO further recognized that an organization could have more than one core activity “such as the manufacture or provision of an end product or service, and research and development into other products or services.” Matter of G-, at 3, note 11.

Once the Petitioner can establish this essential function, it must then prove that the Beneficiary meets all of the four criteria of “managerial capacity” under INA § 101(a)(44)(A). The AAO held that in addition to defining with particularity the activity to be managed and establishing that it is a core function of the organization, the Petitioner must also show that the Beneficiary will primarily manage (and not perform) the function, that the Beneficiary will hold a senior level at the organization or with respect to the function managed, and that the Beneficiary will exercise discretion with the function’s daily operations. Matter of G-, at 4.

In applying their new function manager analysis to the case at bar, the AAO found that the FP&A Director was clearly a function manager under INA §101(a)(44)(A). First, it found that “financial planning and analysis” qualified as a function within the organization as it was clearly defined with specificity and indicated a clear goal of generating data to assess the company’s revenue. Second, the AAO found that the FP&A function was essential to the company, where the Beneficiary’s work would be relied upon by the company’s executives and board of directors in making strategic decisions in mergers and acquisitions. Third, the AAO found that the Beneficiary would primarily manage the function where he would “develop and direct revenue forecasts and analysis for the worldwide organization, lead mergers and acquisitions, and oversee strategic pricing analysis.” Matter of G-, at 5. The AAO continues that the Beneficiary will be supported by six direct and three indirect reports who will “perform the routine duties associated with the FP&A function.” Id. Critically, the AAO finds that even though the Beneficiary directly supervises some of his subordinates, he still primarily manages the function. Fourthly, the AAO found that the Beneficiary will act at a senior level within the organization and with respect to the function, where he reported only to the CFO and CEO and worked closely with other senior executives and managers. Finally, the AAO found that the Petitioner clearly established that the Beneficiary will have discretionary authority over day-to-day operations where the Beneficiary will establish policies, goals, and oversee mergers and acquisitions.

Matter of G- helps to further define the contours of the function manager, and can be used as a guide to U.S. petitioners seeking to establish that the foreign worker meets the criteria under INA § 101(a)(44)(A). While Matter of G- involved a function manager, the AAO’s interpretation of what constitutes a function within an organization could arguably also be deployed to executives under INA 101(a)(44)(B) who can qualify for an L-1A visa by directing a “major component or function of the organization.”  The Petitioner in the instant matter was a large multinational corporation with over 8000 employees worldwide. The USCIS has historically been less receptive to function manager claims of smaller corporations. It may be more challenging for a smaller entity to establish that a function is a clearly defined activity and is core to the organization as well as to demonstrate that the manager is performing at a senior level. Still, petitioners should not fear making the argument that function managers of smaller corporations also meet the criteria. In Brazil Quality Stones, Inc. v. Chertoff, 531 F.3d 1063 (9th Cir. 2008), the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals found that although size is a relevant factor in assessing whether a company’s operations are substantial enough to support a manager, “an organization’s small size, standing alone, cannot support a finding that its employee is not acting in a managerial capacity.” See also INA § 101(a)(44)(C) (“[i]f staffing levels are used as a factor in determining whether an individual is acting in a managerial or executive capacity, the Attorney General shall take into account the reasonable needs of the organization, component, or function in light of the overall purpose and stage of development of the organization, component, or function.”). Notwithstanding this acknowledgement, the Ninth Circuit in Brazil Quality Stones affirmed the USCIS’s denial of the L-1A petition by agreeing that the petitioner did not meet its burden in primarily managing the essential function rather than performing the day to day duties, and the small size of the entity probably undermined the manager’s ability to meet this burden. Subsequent to Brazil Quality Stones, though, the AAO issued Matter of Z-A- as an adopted decision, which has also been acknowledged in Matter of G-. It is now possible to demonstrate that the function manager is being supported by personnel in the foreign organization who perform the duties of the function, and this could be particularly helpful in a small organization with few staff in the U.S. The AAO took pains to note that INA 101(a)(44)(A)(iii) is worded in the disjunctive, requiring a function manager to occupy “a senior level within the organizational hierarchy or with respect to the function managed.” Matter of G-, at 6, note 15.  In a small organization, the function manager may establish seniority with respect to the function managed rather than within the organizational hierarchy. So long as petitioners clearly define the function, establish that the function is essential to the organization, explain how the beneficiary will primarily manage this function at either a senior level at the organization or with respect to the function managed, and that the beneficiary will act with wide discretion, the L-1A petition could stand a chance of being approved under Matter of G-.

Despite the economic benefits that accrue in fostering global corporate activities, the L-1 visa has been heavily criticized over the past few years, with opponents arguing that it threatens domestic employment and “floods the U.S with cheap foreign workers.” The Trump Administration has taken aim at the L-1 visa and has begun to publicly release data about companies who utilize the L-1 visa, increase site visits to companies that employ foreign workers, and has rescinded guidance instructing USCIS officers to give deference to previously approved petitions upon renewal.  Under President Trump’s Buy American and Hire American Executive Order, there is an emphasis on hiring American workers over foreign workers and for corporations to have their operations in America. But the reality is quite the opposite.  U.S. businesses can thrive, compete, prosper, create new jobs and benefit the American consumer through international operations, made that much easier with rapidly evolving internet technology and innovative organizational structures. It is thus refreshing that the AAO has recognized this reality by adopting Matter of G- and Matter of Z-A-. An adopted decision establishes policy guidance that applies to and binds all USCIS employees. USCIS personnel are directed to follow the reasoning in this decision in similar cases.

Matter of Z-A-, Inc.: Recognizing The Global Role Of The L-1A Manager In A Globalized World

Despite the shrill rejection of globalization in the current presidential election cycle, the Appeals Administrative Office (AAO) has thankfully bucked the trend. It recently designated Matter of Z-A- Inc. as an “Adopted Decision, “which means that such a decision “establishes policy guidance that applies to and binds all USCIS employees. USCIS directs its personnel to follow the reasoning in these decisions in similar cases.”

Under Matter of Z-A-, Inc., designated as an Adopted Decision since April 14, 2016, an L-1A intra-company manager who primarily manages an essential function can also be supported by personnel outside the United States within an international organization. A USCIS officer can no longer deny L-1A classification to such a manager because he or she is not supported by personnel within the United States.  This decision recognizes that we operate in a global world, and that an organization may rely on its resources outside the United States to produce products or provide services.

The foreign national manager seeking an L-1A visa extension in Matter of Z-A-, Inc. was the President and Chief Operating Officer of the US petitioning entity whose parent company was in Japan. His duties included: directing and managing the Petitioner’s financial, legal, trade, administrative, and sales activities; establishing financial and budgetary plans and goals; reviewing and monitoring sales activities performed by the Petitioner’s sales manager; liaising with the parent company; and interacting with customers and outside service providers. The Petitioner in the US only employed a sales manager and an administrative specialist. However, eight staff members within the parent company’s headquarters in Japan also exclusively supported the work of this manager.

The key issue is whether the Petitioner established that this manager would be employed in a qualifying “managerial capacity” pursuant to INA 101(a)(44)(A). The Petitioner asserted that this manager would manage an essential function of the organization, which is permitted under the statute, as opposed to managing other personnel. A functional manager under the L-1A visa classification must primarily manager as opposed to perform the essential function, and must also be senior in the organizational hierarchy. An employee who primarily performs the tasks necessary to produce a product or a service is not considered to be employed in primarily a managerial or executive capacity. See Brazil Quality Stones, Inc. v. Chertoff,  531 F.3d 1063 (9th Cir. 2008).

The L-1A visa classification does not require the organization to employ hundreds of people. Rather, the USCIS is required to take into account the reasonable needs of the organization as a whole, including any related entities within the organization, giving consideration to the organization’s overall purpose and stage of development. See INA 101(a)(44)(C). The AAO found that since Congress created the L-1A classification to “eliminate problems…..faced by American companies having offices abroad in transferring key personnel freely within the organization,” it was reasonable for a petitioner to assert that its organizational needs include those of its related foreign components.

In the instant case, the request to extend L-1A status was denied by USCIS Service Center Director on the ground that only a small number of employees worked in the United States, who would support the manager and relieve him from performing the duties of the function. It did not address the Petitioner’s substantial evidence relating to the staff that was located at the parent entity in Japan who also supported the manager in primarily managing the essential function of the organization. The AAO reversed the Service Center’s decision on this ground by noting:

“Here the record shows that the Beneficiary, in his role as Vice President, will continue to rely on the support of the eight staff members in Japan and two employees in the United States to accomplish non-managerial duties, and that the purpose of his transfer is to oversee the short-term and long-term expansion of the Petitioner’s presence in what is a new market. Given the overall purpose of the organization and the organization’s stage of development, the Petitioner has established a reasonable need for a senior-level employee to manage the essential function of developing its brands and presence in the United States, notwithstanding that the Petitioner employs directly only two other employees in the United States.

While the Beneficiary may be required to perform some operational or administrative tasks from time to time, the Petitioner has established by a preponderance of evidence that the Beneficiary will primarily manage an essential function, while day-to-day, non-managerial tasks will be performed by a combined staff of 10 employees of the Petitioner and its parent company, located in the United States and Japan, respectively.”

In a globalized world, where people are easily connected to each other by the internet, it is no longer necessary for a manager to rely on personnel in one location, namely in the United States. It is now common for teams of personnel within one organization to easily collaborate across different countries to produce a product or provide a service using cloud technology and even able to video conference on one’s smart phone through Skype or FaceTime.  The fact that the world is flat, as famously coined by Tom Friedman, is no longer a novelty but a given in a world that has become even more hyper connected since.  Despite unrealistic calls by politicians to have operations exclusively in America, the reality is that US businesses can thrive, compete, prosper, create new jobs and benefit the American consumer through international operations, made that much easier with rapidly evolving internet technology.

Until the AAO designated Matter of Z-A- , Inc. as an Adopted Decision, it was quite common to receive an objection from the USCIS that the persons supporting the L-1A manager were not in the United States, and would therefore not count in evaluating whether this individual would be performing in primarily a managerial capacity. This sort of reasoning was not consistent with the way businesses operate today, and  put the United States at a distinct competitive disadvantage if its corporations could not quickly bring in key personnel, who in turn would be supported by resources in foreign countries. Even if it was logical and commonsensical for a manager to qualify for an L-1A on this obvious basis, some USCIS officers obstructively still denied the L-1A petition. After Matter of Z-A- Inc.’s elevation to an Adopted Decision, it now firmly binds all employees of the USCIS even if their worldview may be colored by the clarion calls of politicians who reject globalization.  In the event that a USCIS employee still goes rogue and denies the L-1A petition on such a baseless ground, it certainly provides strong grounds for an appeal.

Framing a New Office L with Help From the Office of Inspector General

By Myriam Jaidi

An individual seeking to transfer to the United States as a manager or executive (specialized knowledge employees will not be addressed in this blog) comes to you for help.  She may be interested in opening a new office, or may be transferred to an existing company that has been operating for more than one year.  In either event, the business involved is a small one and your client may be the only employee or one of few employees.

In light of the August 2013 report from the Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”), Office of Inspector General (“OIG”) (OIG-13-107), you know you face an uphill battle, but one that may be winnable.  We note that the 2006 OIG report on the L nonimmigrant category was mandated by law (section 415 of the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2005, Pub. L. 108-447), but the 2013 report was issued at the request of Senator Grassley, specifically to examine the potential for fraud or abuse in the L-1 category. Senator Grassley has been a well known critic of immigration and is more likely than not to suspect fraud as he done with other categories, such as the H-1B and B visas, among others.  Despite the potentially negative driving force behind the impetus for the report, it provides valuable insights and guidance on the L category, and some very important nuggets for practitioners filing for small businesses.

One important take-away of the OIG report, that we as practitioners have doubtless noticed, is that adjudication of L petitions has been inconsistent across various fields. “We reviewed L-1 petitions ranging from the restaurant industry to the information technology field, and concluded that adjudicators reach different decisions despite similar fact patterns.”  It is some comfort for practitioners, who sometimes stand amazed at the different outcomes for similar petitions, that the OIG has identified this reality and raised it as a problem.

The OIG conducted domestic and international field work, interviewing USCIS and CBP personnel, as well as consular officials, as well as managers within both the DHS and the Department of State, and found vulnerabilities in various areas, and here we focus on their critique of new office Ls and extensions.  The OIG states that new office petitions (and to some extent, extensions thereof) “are inherently susceptible to abuse because much of the information in the initial petition is forward-looking and speculative.”  Specific problems the OIG identified in its file reviews of new office petitions included the following:

  •  Lack of a realistic business plan or a plan that is so vague, the petitioner cannot present a viable path to meeting L-1 definitions at the end of the 1-year period;
  • Initial staffing structures that raise questions about the future need for an L-1A manager or executive. Common examples we reviewed included gas stations or convenience stores that list several “managers,” with few workers involved in the day-to-day functions of the business;
  • Managers who perform nonqualifying work as a central part of their job; and
  • Inconsistencies or vagueness in how the beneficiary’s managerial or executive job is described.

The report concludes that given the integrity risks and uncertainty at issue in new office petitions, they are “sometimes” approved erroneously.  As practitioners we know that such petitions are sometimes denied erroneously as well.  It is unclear how often erroneous approval occurs, or how widespread the problem is.  The way the OIG report frames the issue, emphasizing improper approvals without further information on actual numbers, may result in a backlash against approval of new office L-1As, even strong cases.  (The fact that the approval numbers declined drastically after the 2006 OIG report was issued (57,218 in 2007 to 33,301 in 2011) does raise the possibility that companies may face more difficulty in getting new office petitions approved after this particular report sinks in.)

In light of this bias, practitioners will need to use the information in the OIG report to strengthen new office petitions, as well as extensions, especially for small businesses. Initially, we should address what makes a business a “small” business.  The H-1B fraud indicators (less than 25 employees, less than $10 million in gross income, less than 10 years in existence) are not helpful in the L context because if they were applied, most small businesses would not be able to pass muster.  The L statute and regulations are structured such that a single person may open a new office in the United States pursuant to valid L-1 status.  However, as the excerpt from the OIG report above demonstrates, the smaller the company in terms of number of employees, and funding, the more suspect the application.  This is because the smaller the operation, the logic goes, the less likely the individual will be performing primarily qualifying duties, and the less likely the organization can support someone in a managerial or executive position. The statutory definitions specifically indicate that size may be taken into account in “determining whether an individual is acting in a managerial or executive capacity”, however, where this is done, the government must “take into account the reasonable needs of the organization, component, or function in light of the overall purpose and stage of development of the organization, component, or function.”  INA 101(a)(44)(C).

If the company will initially have only one or a small number of employees, it is important to present clearly what the beneficiary will be doing during the start-up or initial phases, and how his or her duties may change over time as the business develops.  Presenting a clear road map of development and duties will help you avoid the label of a fatally vague business plan.  Demonstrate that the beneficiary may initially set up the business, rent office space, hire subordinates and/or contract for services such as accounting, payroll, even marketing and public relations, but once these decisions are made and implemented and she has assured administrative and operational support, she will focus on managerial or executive duties. Explain what her duties will be and why, support that explanation with the relevant facts and figures from a detailed business plan, and present a reasonable projection of what her future duties will be based on the type of organization, its expected needs at the one-year mark (and beyond), and the position she is slated to fill.  Explain any non-qualifying duties to further distinguish the time spent on qualifying duties.  In addition, if the beneficiary receives support from abroad, explain how that support ensures the development and continuing operation of the company, and how it supports the argument that the beneficiary is serving in a managerial or executive role.  Finally, if during a first year some event beyond the petitioner’s or beneficiary’s control has significantly negatively impacted the petitioner’s business and therefore its business plan, such as a natural disaster like Hurricane Sandy, such an occurrence should be explained in an extension petition.  Under such circumstances, where the business has been negatively impacted, the petitioner may suggest to USCIS that if it is not inclined to approve the extension for two years under the circumstances, it could approve the petition for one year and have the petitioner make a stronger showing once it has regrouped after the event, at the next extension.

In some instances, such as in cases where the beneficiary will be serving as a “functional manager,” it may be arguable that hiring workers is crucial to managing the essential function. For example, where the beneficiary manages the sales function, an important part of doing so would be to ensure a sales team is in place to carry out the actual sales.  Though the OIG specifically lists hiring workers are a nonqualifying duties (see page 19), practitioners may still be able to demonstrate that in fact such a duty is a part and parcel of managing a specific function, and ensuring that the manager is not engaging in the function managed.  Of course, it is important, given the guidance, to ensure that the individual is not primarily hiring employees, but the fact of hiring employees need not be dismissed out of hand as nonqualifying.

In providing an overview of the qualifying duties, and in order to dispel the presumption of “nonqualifying work as a central part” of the position, it is recommended to provide an estimate of the percentage of time the beneficiary will spend on each duty.  Of course, this can be a painful exercise, particularly because a beneficiary’s broader duties may not be easily dissected into meaningful minute-by-minute tasks.  While attempting to trying to break up the duties, you may want to emphasize that these percentages are only an approximation as in the real world, especially involving a manager or executive with high level duties, it is often difficult to pinpoint the exact percentage of time devoted to each duty by the very nature of the high level position. Unlike a worker in a non-managerial clerical or factory job, where the employer assigns the duties in a precise manner, a top level manager who performs at the highest level within an organization must multi-task, and many of the duties may overlap. A successful manager or executive is also required to adapt to challenges and a changing business environment, in order to maximize growth for the organization. Given the discretionary role of a high level manager or executive, it would at times undermine that role if a strict percentage of time was assigned to each and every duty as it would prevent the manager or executive from innovating, adapting or taking risks. Risk-taking is vital for growth, innovation and job creation, which requires the qualities of flexibility, adaptability and the ability to change in the face of new business trends.  Nevertheless, it is important to elicit and sift through the beneficiary’s duties.  Have them assist you in developing as specifically as possible what tasks she does and the time she tends to allocate to each.  This will allow the beneficiary to present the clearest picture of the beneficiary’s work and credibly demonstrate that she spends the majority of her time on qualifying duties.  As an aside, it is not clear what percentage of managerial or executive duties meets the “primarily” threshold, though a general guideline, echoed in USCIS statements (specifically, R. Divine, “Comments on OIG Draft Report: A review of Vulnerabilities and Potential Abuses of the L-1 Visa Program,” (Jan. 10, 2006) (included as Exhibit E to the 2006 OIG report)), is that primarily means a “majority of the time.”  Use this as a guide, but keep in mind that the more qualifying duties the better, and the stronger the argument that each duty is a qualifying duty, the better.

In its list of suspect cases included above, the OIG specifically singled out “gas stations or convenience stores” as examples of cases where “initial staffing structures . . . raise questions about the future need for an L-1A manager or executive.”  There is nothing in the law that precludes the ability of Petitioners that run gas stations, convenience stores, or similar small businesses, to obtain approval for L-1 transferees.  This may not be possible for the average mom-and-pop gas station or single convenience store owner, but where the petitioner starts with one operation, such as a gas station or convenience store as an anchor investment, and demonstrates that it is expanding or intends to expand to further investments under the guidance of a function manager who is responsible for the essential function of business development, a sufficiently strong case can be made.  Under INA § 101(a)(44)(A)(ii) and (iii), a function manager does not need to be supervising other managerial or professional employees in order to qualify for L-1A visa classification.  Crucial in these cases is showing that the function manager is relieved from performing non-qualifying duties by subordinate staff, whether they are professional or not.  Moreover, the petition would have to demonstrate that additional investments are being planned and pursued by the beneficiary pursuant to his or her mandate of strategic management, growth and investment.  Again, specifics are very important – show the steps the beneficiary is taking to pursue investments (emails, letters of intent, etc.), the financing involved in such investments, explain why such action is properly taken by a function manager, someone with high level authority to commit the petitioner to a course of action or expenditure of funds.

A variety of types of small businesses can successfully petition for a transferring manager or executive (or specialized knowledge) employee.  Successful cases may involve varying amounts of capitalization, salaries, numbers and types of employees, and various levels of interaction and support by the foreign entity, whether administrative, operational, or financial.  The key appears to be the level of detail provided, the fact that such detail is borne out in a well diversified set of supporting documents illustrating each point made the petition, and that all issues, including elements of a position that may be nonqualifying, are clearly explained.  Such detail can help to overcome the suspicion the OIG has with regard to smaller companies, or companies that are family owned and operated.  In the case of family businesses, the petitioner should explain the family relationships involved and make clear the role each family member will play in the business, and their qualifications for such roles.  The OIG has indicated that family based operations have been a vehicle for fraud, so a cautious practitioner will need to disabuse them of this presumption by hitting the issue head on and demonstrating the validity of the managerial or executive employment.

Practitioners and petitioners should also be aware that beginning in the first quarter of 2014, USCIS’s Fraud Detection and National Security Directorate (FDNS) expects to conduct post-adjudication domestic L-1 compliance site visits.  The OIG recommended that “USCIS make a site visit a requirement before extending 1-year new office petitions.”  The USCIS concurred and plans to being doing such site visits prior to granting an extension in a new office. Beneficiaries should be advised of the potential for a site visit to ensure that if an FDNS representative comes by, that everyone at the business knows who the beneficiary is and direct the FDNS officer to the person who will answer questions about the petition most accurately.

That the OIG report demonstrates that the government may view petitions filed by small businesses unfavorably is helpful to petitioners in illustrating how they need to improve petitions they file, and where they need to provide explanations and documentation to further demonstrate the credibility of a petition.  Petitioners should also highlight that small businesses are a recognized engine of a recovering economy, as borne out by reports published by organizations like the November 2009 report by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, and articles by Thomas Friedman, and other reputable writers addressing economic issues.  The statutes and regulations governing the L category themselves recognize the importance of new and small businesses, despite the government suspicion of them.  As discussed on numerous occasions on this blog, USCIS has also recognized the importance of entrepreneurs and small business in the context of its “Entrepreneurs in Residence” initiative.  In addition to presenting a strong, well-documented petition, practitioners can balance the negatives presented by the OIG against the positives presented by the USCIS in the context of its support of entrepreneurs, and include a short discussion of the significance of small businesses, even family businesses, in the context of economic recovery and growth.

The OIG reports from 2013 and 2006