he L-1 visas are nonimmigrant work visas designed for intracompany transferees. They allow aliens (foreign nationals) who are already employed in a managerial, executive or professional capacity to transfer to a US company or office of the same employer or its affiliated entity (another US company that enjoys a “qualifying relationship” with the beneficiary’s overseas employer). Family members are allowed to accompany the employee on an L-2 visa.
Who is Eligible for an L-1 Visa?
To obtain an L-1 visa, you must:
- Be serving or have recently served as a manager, executive, or specialized employee in a multinational company;
- Have worked for the multinational in one of the above-mentioned positions for at least one year (12 continuous months) out of the most recent three years (36 months) prior to transferring to the United States; and
- Intend to perform a similar role with the same employer or an affiliated entity after transferring to the U.S.
Your US employer must file Form I-129 on your behalf–you cannot file it on your own. An immigration lawyer can help gather the necessary information and prepare your petition in the most effective manner.
Unlike certain other employment-based visas such as the H-1B, there are no formal educational requirements for foreign workers to obtain L-1 visas. Of course, there may be some practical requirements — your employer is likely to require a certain level of educational attainment before hiring you as an executive, for example. Additionally, the higher your educational attainment, the more persuasive your L1 visa petition is likely to be.
It is possible to qualify for L-1 status as the sole owner or majority shareholder in your company. To do this, you will have to be hired as an employee of the company (CEO, for example), and your transfer will have to be authorized by your company’s board of directors. This can get tricky, especially in terms of the documentation you will have to provide. You may need the assistance of a law firm that is intimately familiar with L1 immigration law.
Qualifications for Employers
To sponsor an L-1 visa for a temporary employee, the sponsoring employer must:
- Enjoy a “qualifying relationship” with a company that is established and doing business under the laws of a foreign jurisdiction (the nationality of the company’s owners is generally irrelevant); and
- Currently be doing business as a US employer (or, in the case of a new office, preparing to do business), either directly or through a ‘qualifying organization’. “Doing business” doesn’t necessarily have to mean international trade.
The US sponsor must continue meeting the foregoing qualifications for the duration of the visa beneficiary’s stay in the United States in L-1 status. “Doing business” means earning revenue through the provision of goods and services on a regular, systematic basis. A mere formal presence abroad, such as a representative office, is not enough. Size matters — companies with fewer than five employees are unlikely to be considered eligible to sponsor an L-1 visa employee.
What is a “Qualifying Relationship”?
A “qualifying relationship” for L-1 USA visa purposes means:
- A parent/subsidiary relationship. In this case, the parent must own at least 50 percent of the subsidiary.
- One of the parties must be a branch office of the other parties.
- An affiliate relationship. Two companies are affiliates if the same company, individual or group of individuals owns and controls both of them.
What is an L-1A Visa?
An L-1A visa category is one of the two types of L1 visas available (the other type is called an L-1B visa). The L1A visa allows a U.S. employer to sponsor an executive or manager from one of its affiliated entities (an entity with which it enjoys a qualifying relationship) to one of its offices in the United States. A foreign company that intends to establish a US office can also send a manager or executive to the US to establish a new office.
What is a “Manager”?
A manager is someone who:
- supervises the work of at least three workers in managerial, supervisory or professional roles within the company;
- has the authority to hire, fire and recommend; and
- directs the day-to-day operations of the company
An employee can also be classified as a manager even without supervisory authority if he heads a key department such as R&D.
What is an “Executive”?
An executive is someone who:
- Oversees day-to-day operations. At least two tiers of authority must exist below him (lower management and rank-and-file employees, for example).
- Establishes policies, procedures and goals for the company.
- Enjoys the discretion to make executive-level decisions, either within the company or on behalf of the company’s dealings with third parties.
- Supervises senior employees and is subject to only general supervision from his superiors (directors and stockholders, for example).
Establishing a New Office With an L1A Employee
One of the primary benefits of the L1A visa is the ability to send a qualifying employee to the United States to establish a new office. To do this, the sponsoring employer must:
- Prove that it has already acquired the physical premises to establish the new office. This is generally accomplished through ownership or lease of physical property. Virtual offices are looked on with suspicion.
- Prove that it possesses the financial means to begin business operations and to pay the employee during his entire period of stay. If a parent company is establishing the new office, for example, a resolution from the board of directors pledging sufficient funding can be used (assuming that the parent company’s financial resources are sufficient).
- Submit a well-researched and thorough business plan that includes a description of the organizational structures of both offices.
- Prove that the office has already acquired any licenses or permits required for its operation.
- Obtain a federal Employer Identification Number (EIN) from the Internal Revenue Service.
What is an L-1B Visa?
An L-1B visa category is the functional equivalent of the L-1A visa, except that it is designed not for managers and executives, but for employees with specialized knowledge. Specialized knowledge” means:
- A deep understanding of the company’s products, services, business techniques, research, management, and other important company functions or assets as they are used to compete in international markets.
- Knowledge that is unique to the extent that other company employees with similar experience and expertise within the company or within the company’s industry do not possess it.
- Knowledge that is uncommon in international markets and that is critical for the company to navigate important issues that affect its US business interests.
Sending an L-1B Employee to a New Office
It is somewhat easier to send an L-1B employee to a new US office than it is to send an L-1A applicant. The company must prove that the office has secured physical premises, that the employer has the financial capacity to remunerate the L-1B employee, and that the company has the financial capacity to commence operations in the US.
Period of Stay
The holder of an approved L-1A visa is granted three years in the United States,with extensions possible in increments of two years up to a maximum of seven years. An executive or manager coming to the US to establish a new office is typically granted only one year instead of three years, but his period of stay is still extendable up to seven years. An L-1B visa holder is also granted a stay of three years stay (one year for a new office); however, the L-1B is extendable to a maximum of only five years.
Unfortunately, L-1A and L-1B visa holders cannot extend past the foregoing limits — they must either adjust their status in the United States, go abroad and re-enter the United States on another type of visa, or spend another one year working overseas before they are able to apply for another L1 visa.
Spouses and Dependents
An L1 visa holder is even allowed to bring his spouse and children (under 21) to stay in the US for the duration of his own visa status. Other relatives cannot qualify for an L-2 visa, however. Eligible family members must apply for and receive an L-2 visa. Although a spouse may also work in the US after applying for and receiving an Employment Authorization Document, the children may not work in the US on L-2 status.
Permanent Residence/Dual Intent
One of the most convenient features of the L-1 visa is that it is considered a “dual intent” visa. What this means is that:
- You do not have to maintain a permanent foreign residence while you are in the US.
- You cannot get into trouble with the USCIS for applying for lawful permanent residence (a “green card”).
- You may obtain a green card without having to leave the US, provided that you qualify for lawful permanent residence under whatever basis your green card petition relies on.
The dual intent doctrine also applies to L-2 visa holders, meaning that if you obtain a green card, your family members can potentially obtain green cards as well.
A company that otherwise qualifies to sponsor an L1 visa beneficiary may file a blanket petition for an entire team of employees at the same time, with one application and one filing fee, as long as:
- The U.S.-based company office has been in business for at least a year;
- The petitioner maintains a least three US and foreign branches, affiliates, or subsidiaries; and
- The petitioner, along with its affiliated foreign companies, have obtained at least 10 L1 approvals over the past year; or they have U.S. affiliates or subsidiaries with at least $25 million in annual sales; or they employ at least 1,000 workers in the US.
Each visa applicant must present himself before a United States embassy or consulate outside the US to obtain the visa, and the applicant may be refused a visa if the officer believes issuing one would be inappropriate for some reason.
How Long Does it Take to Get an L1 Visa?
The entire L1 process generally takes six months to a year, although blanket petitions are typically faster than individual petitions. If you elect Premium Processing, however (which requires a fee of $1,410 in addition to the normal $460 processing fee), you are guaranteed a decision within 15 calendar days. If no decision is made during that time, the processing fee will be refunded.