Specialized Knowledge: A Review of the L-1B Immigration Dance

I heard Phish bassist Mike Gordon say today that his bandmate Trey Anastasio once told Dave Matthews that placing the word “dance” in a song can automatically encourage a crowd to dance.

United States Citizenship and Immigration Services have begun their own dance song, in recent years.  And immigrants, their employers and attorneys, have all had to start dancing as fast as possible to keep up with the rhythm.

USA Today reported yesterday that L-1B visa denials have increased dramatically, almost simultaneously with the start of the American recession.

L-1Bs are work visas for immigrants “with specialized knowledge” who transfer from a foreign company to an American affiliate, parent, subsidiary or joint venture.

Besides the increased denials of L-1Bs, United States Citizenship and Immigration Services requested additional information on 46% of petitions last year.

Immigration Attorneys often receive very lengthy “request for evidence” – notifications with a host of questions about the applicant’s specialized knowledge.

In fact, both the requests for evidence and denials often center on whether the immigrant actually has specialized knowledge.

The term “specialized knowledge” is defined in Federal Regulations as either:

  • special knowledge possessed by an individual of the petitioning organization’s product, service, research, equipment, techniques, management, or other interests and its application in international markets


  • an advanced level of knowledge or expertise in the organization’s processes and procedures


Time was, the cases were treated reasonably.

Then, right as the economy began to decline, we saw a huge change in how Immigration officers looked at what constitutes specialized knowledge.  Technical jobs – previously approved routinely – suddenly faced microscopic analysis and rejection.

The American Immigration Lawyers Association is aiming to collect data from its membership on the latest trends in how United States Citizenship and Immigration Services define “specialized knowledge.”

One thing is obvious: despite no change in the law, Immigration is playing a different dance tune than they were performing just a handful of years ago, when it comes to specialized knowledge.

And if you or your company have an L-1B case, you need the best immigration lawyer that you can find.

Written by: Harlan York

Immigration Attorney Harlan York is Former Chair, Immigration Section, NJ State Bar Association and Former Co-Chair, NY State Bar Association CFLS Immigration Committee. Mr. York appeared on National Television on CBS This Morning with Charlie Rose and Primer Impacto on Univision, as well as Telemundo, NBC, and PBS. He was honored as First Ever Immigration Lawyer of The Year in NJ by Best Lawyers.

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