According to a recent announcement, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) will be implementing a new pilot program, beginning April 30, 2018, purportedly “ to facilitate the adjudication and admission process of Canadians traveling to the U.S. as L-1 nonimmigrants” under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). The program, which, for now, is being applied only at the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) port of entry (POE) in Blaine, Washington, will jettison on-the-spot L-1 NAFTA adjudications at the POE, and direct U.S. employers to instead submit a Form I-129 petition, in addition to supporting evidence for Canadian citizens seeking to enter the United States as L-1 executives or managers, to the California Service Center. There will be no premium processing surcharge for this service. USCIS will collect fees, issue receipt notices, and adjudicate NAFTA L-1 applications for Blaine through October 31, 2018.

Impact on Employers

Despite its beneficial aims, however, aspects of the program could subject employers and Canadians hoping to enter the United States on a temporary basis with new burdens. Replacing border adjudications with a 1-3 day mail-in pre-adjudication procedure could alleviate potential delays for some Canadians who seek to avoid waiting in line at the Blaine POE while CBP reviews their L-1 application packets in real-time. However, the USCIS announcement acknowledges that the agency may send a request for evidence as part of the new pilot program process but does not identify how the typically significant delays related to such requests would be reduced. CBP will continue to make final admissibility determinations once the applicant has the petition approval notice. In its announcement, USCIS points out that Blaine applicants may still apply at other POEs during the pilot program under the regular process.

Data from the pilot will be used to determine whether to extend the program to other POEs throughout Canada. While the pilot program’s advance processing concept may be welcome by some applicants who prefer not to endure long waiting times for CBP adjudications prior to entry and the uncertainty of outcome at the border, it has the countervailing potential to eliminate the convenience of immediate admission for Canadians in L-1 status.