The L-1 visa facilitates the transfer of professionals working for a company in a foreign country to the same company in the United States.
This is known as intra-company transfer since, unlike other work visas, the foreign worker is already working for the company they plan on joining in the US.
L1 visa Requirements
The L-1 visa sets the following employer requirements:
- Have a qualifying relationship with a foreign company (parent company, branch, subsidiary, or affiliate, collectively referred to as qualifying organizations); and
- Currently, be, or will be, doing business as an employer in the US and in at least one other country directly or through a qualifying organization for the duration of the L-1 worker’s stay in the United States.
According to the USCIS, “doing business” means the regular, systematic, and continuous provision of goods and/or services by a qualifying organization and does not include the mere presence of an agent or office of the qualifying organization in the United States and abroad.
The L-1 Visa is also suitable for foreign employers seeking to send an employee to the United States as an executive or manager to establish a new office.
- The employer has assured adequate facilities to house the new office;
- The employee was employed as an executive or manager for one consecutive year in the three years prior to the filing of the petition; and
- The intended US office will support an executive or managerial position within one year of the approval of the petition.
For employees, the requirements vary according to their type of L-1 visa.
Types of L-1 Visa
There are two types of L-1 visas, depending on the type of work the visa holder performs:
- L-1A visa: this visa is designed for managers and executives who meet criteria specifically defined by the USCIS. Executives can make decisions of wide latitude without much oversight, whereas managers supervise and control the work of employees and manage the organization or a subdivision of the organization.
- L-1B visa: this visa is designed for those individuals who perform work requiring specialized knowledge, meaning that they either have advanced knowledge of the organization’s process or special knowledge of the organization’s products services, equipment, research, or other interests.
The H-1B Visa
The H-1B visa is a nonimmigrant visa needed when a US-based company hires foreign workers with specialized knowledge to work in the United States in specialty occupations.
The foreign national should hold a bachelor’s degree or higher and the employer must demonstrate the lack of qualified U.S. applicants for the position.
The H-1B Visa x the L-1 Visa
The H-1B and the L-1 visa share a few similarities. Both are designed for the temporary employment of professionals with specialized knowledge and both are considered to be “dual intent” visas, meaning that H 1B visa holders and L 1 visa holders can pursue permanent residency in the US without jeopardizing their current status.
But, despite their similarities, there are some key differences between the H-1B and the L-1 visa.
H-1B applicants are looking to work as a professional for a company or organization in the US, whereas the L-1 candidates already work for a foreign branch of a US company or are planning to open operations in the US of a foreign-based company.
One of the most significant requirements for the H-1B visa is that the foreign worker must be paid at least the prevailing wage in the area they plan to work.
For L-1 visas, prevailing wage is not a requirement, since the foreign national is working on behalf of a foreign entity.
#Minimal educational requirements
The L-1 visa does not have a minimum qualification requirement, whereas the H-1B visa requires at least a bachelor’s degree in the field chosen and specialized knowledge about the occupation field.
#Approval from the Department of Labor
For the H-1B visa to be approved by USCIS, the petitioning employer must submit an approved LCA by the DOL along with the I-129 petition.
The L-1 visa does not have such a requirement.
#Duration of the visa
L-1A and L-1B visa holders are allowed in the US for a maximum period of three years, but they can also request for extension of stay in increments of up to an additional two years, but until reaching the maximum limit of seven years for L-1A holders and five years for L-1B holders.
The H-1B visa allows its holders to stay in the US for a maximum period of three years, with the possibility of a 3-year extension.
With an L1 Visa, foreign nationals can bring their spouse and unmarried children under 21 years old to live with them in the US, under an L2 visa.
Under the L2 status, beneficiaries can study and apply for an Employment Authorization Document (EAD), meaning that they are allowed to work.
H1B visa holders can also bring their spouse and unmarried children under the age of 21, under an H4 Visa.
The H4 status allows beneficiaries to study and live in the US, but are only allowed to apply for an EAD under some circumstances.
A blanket petition is a petition through which multinational companies may pre-qualify to transfer their eligible employees into the US in groups, essentially allowing companies to transfer several employees to the US at once under one single petition.
A blanket petition reduces the processing time for visas as it allows the employer to not need to prove eligibility every time they wish to sponsor a worker.
Blanket petitions are not available for H-1B visas, but they are for L-1 visas and are largely used by multinational companies.
An H-1B application is subject to an annual cap of 65,0000 new visas per year, with an additional 20,000 visas under a master’s degree cap. Applicants are subject to a lottery before having their visa petition analyzed by the USCIS.
There is no annual cap for the number of L-1 visas that can be issued per year, meaning that foreign nationals do not need to worry about not having enough L-1 visas available.
#Change of employer
The H-1B visa allows its beneficiaries to switch jobs by requiring the new employer to file an I-129 petition with the USCIS.
In contrast, the L-1 visa allows its beneficiaries to work only for the company that sponsored their visa, meaning that an L-1 holder can’t change to a different company under the L-1 status.
Can I change my L-1 Visa to an H-1B visa?
If an L-1 visa holder wishes to accept a new job offer for a different employer, it is possible to change from an L-1 visa to an H-1B visa. But there are a few things to be careful about.
- L-1 to H-1B change of status will require an entirely new H-1B application and the employee will still be subject to the H-1B cap.
- The new employer will need to submit a Labor Condition Application with the Department of Labor for certification.
- If the application is selected for the lottery, the petitioning employer must submit Form I-129, along with the certified LCA and all the necessary documents for an H-1B visa petition.
Once the H-1B petition is approved, the employee will be able to start working for the new employer on October 1ts of the same fiscal year, and their status will be automatically changed to H-1B.
However, if the employer is outside the US, the employee will get their H-1B status under consular processing, requiring a visa stamp.
If the petition is denied or the applicant was not selected for the lottery, the L-1 visa is still valid, provided that the applicant can still work for the previous employer.
L-1 to H-1B change of status for the same employer
If the current L-1 employer meets the employer eligibility requirements for the H-1B visa and is willing to sponsor the change of status, it is possible to migrate from L-1 to H-1B.
However, all H-1B eligibility requirements must be met. Not only the worker must hold a bachelor’s degree, but such a degree must be related to the H-1B job and the job must fall under the specialty occupation category.
Before making any uncertain move, consult an immigration attorney to make sure that all H-1B visa requirements are fully satisfied.
H1B has a maximum period of 6 years, and this includes any time spent in the U.S. under an L-1 visa. This impacts the duration of the H-1B visa.
For instance, if an L-1 employee spent 3 years in the US but received an increment of 2 years. The total time spent in the US under an L-1 status is 5 years. This means that, when changing to H-1B, this worker will only get 1 year H-1B, instead of 3 years + 3-year extension.
The only way to extend the period of stay is by applying for a green card. Working with an experienced immigration attorney can help you prevent any unpleasant surprises regarding the validity of your status.
Which one is better?
It all comes down to your work situation and future aspirations.
While the L-1 visa is easy to obtain if a company needs to place a worker on-site in the U.S. for some time, to get an H1B visa, the employer must be highly skilled and knowledgeable in their field of choice and must hold an equivalent bachelor’s or master’s degree.
If you are looking for a long settlement in the US, the H-1B can be a good visa to consider.
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