Connecticut, US

Apr 29 2019

CBP and USCIS Further Extend Canadian L-1 Pilot Program at Blaine, WA

United States

At a glance

  • The Blaine, WA pilot program – under which USCIS adjudicates Canadian L-1 border applications, instead of CBP, at the Blaine port of entry – will be extended through April 30, 2020.
  • The program is optional; Canadian citizens seeking initial or intermittent/commuter L status may continue to make border L-1 applications with CBP at other northern ports of entry.
  • CBP has recently begun refusing to adjudicate any renewals of Canadian L status, so L renewals may be submitted to USCIS through the Blaine, WA pilot program, or should be submitted to a USCIS Service Center in the U.S. under standard USCIS L-1 procedures.

The issue

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) have once again extended a joint pilot program under which Canadians making L-1 applications at the Blaine, Washington port of entry may file their applications with USCIS in advance. The program will remain in place through April 30, 2020. It was initiated in April 2018 and originally set to expire on April 30, 2019. 

How the pilot program works

The pilot program, which is optional, applies to Canadians seeking L-1 admission based on an employer’s approved blanket petition, as well as those seeking admission based on an individual L-1 petition. Canadian nationals who choose to participate in the pilot file their L-1 petitions with USCIS’s California Service Center (CSC) for review before seeking admission at the Blaine port of entry. If USCIS approves the case, the applicant can use the approval notice to request admission at any northern port of entry. Participants can also seek entry by bringing their CSC filing receipt to the border, though CBP will need to contact USCIS to request remote adjudication of the case, which can result in delays.

Anecotal reports from companies and foreign nationals who have already been utilizing the Blaine program indicate that adjudication processing times under the pilot have been similar to those seen under USCIS’s standard L-1 program; the pilot does not appear to yield expedited processing.

Other options for Canadian border L-1 applications

As an alternative to the pilot program, Canadian citizens seeking either initial L-1 status, or intermittent or commuter L-1 status may continue to seek admission at CBP ports of entry without filing an application with USCIS in advance; ports near Blaine include Port Roberts, Sumas, Washington, and the Vancouver, Washington airport pre-clearance station.

As recently reported, CBP has expanded its new practice of refusing L-1 renewal applications for Canadian nationals, and is now refusing L renewals at nearly all U.S.-Canada ports of entry, as well as at all Canadian airport pre-flight inspection sites. Contrary to regulation and longstanding agency practice, CBP is claiming that instead of seeking a CBP adjudication at the border, L renewal applicants must file an extension of stay petition with USCIS. Therefore, Canadian L renewals not filed though the Blaine, Washington pilot program should be submitted to the appropriate USCIS Service Center under standard USCIS filing procedures. L-1 renewals submitted to CBP at the border are likely to be refused.

Looking ahead

USCIS continues to seek feedback from stakeholders concerning the pilot program and whether it should be extended to other ports of entry or immigration classifications. Because current regulations explicitly permit Canadian citizens to seek L-1 admission at Class A ports of entry and at airport pre-clearance, regulatory changes may be necessary to expand or permanently implement the program.

Fragomen is closely monitoring the L-1 pilot program and will provide additional updates as they are issued. 

This alert is for informational purposes only. If you have any questions, please contact the immigration professional with whom you work at Fragomen.