After four years of internal deliberations, U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS) recently issued a policy memorandum binding all USCIS personnel to follow the reasoning of a 2013 USCIS Administrative Appeals Office (AAO) decision. That AAO decision broadened the type of evidence a U.S. employer may cite in support of an L-1A intracompany transfer visa, which is used by U.S.-based entities that seek to transfer employment of a manager or executive from a foreign-based affiliate.

The 2013 AAO decision was petitioned by the U.S. subsidiary of a publically traded Japanese parent company that manufactures packaging solutions for the medical, pharmaceutical, and food industries. Its U.S. subsidiary imports, markets, and distributes the Japanese parent company’s product line in North America. In 2012, the U.S. subsidiary sought to extend the L-1A visa of a transferee employee, who acted as the U.S. employer’s vice president and chief operating officer. The USCIS California Service Center denied the extension request, claiming the transferee was not employed in a managerial capacity because the U.S. employer did not have an organizational structure large enough to support a managerial position. By citing the existence of only two payroll employees besides the L-1A transferee, USCIS denied the visa extension, claiming that in the absence of other employees, the transferee L visa beneficiary was primarily performing sales duties rather than managerial duties. The denial decision gave no weight to the fact that the transferred employee supervised contracted U.S. service providers and a foreign staff of eight employees, which included three sales employees, four engineers, and a shipping clerk.

AAO overturned that California Service Center decision, citing as error the denial’s emphasis on the small size of the U.S.-based operations. As the AAO noted, “That a petitioner may only have a few employees directly on its payroll, although a relevant consideration in the determination of whether a beneficiary qualifies as an L-1A manager, does not necessarily compel a conclusion that the beneficiary primarily performs day-to-day operational duties.”

By adopting as policy the guidance provided by the 2013 AAO decision, USCIS has now made it a requirement that all USCIS employees follow the reasoning of the AAO decision. U.S. multinational employers will be the prime beneficiaries of this reversal in longstanding USCIS practice. Now, even U.S. employers with quantitatively limited organizational structures can benefit from the advantages of the L employment visa category.