The L-1 Intracompany Transferee Visa and Its Advantages

Employment-Based Immigration

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The L visa category is a popular nonimmigrant visa type that allows foreign companies to dispatch their employees to the United States to work for affiliated entities. Although the L-1 visa is in some ways similar to the H-1B visa, most people prefer an L-1 visa if given a choice.

Introduction to the L-1 Visa

The L-1 visa allows employees (or recent former employees) of multinational companies to transfer from an office located overseas to the office of an identical or affiliated company located in the United States. The US office can even be a new office that the L-1 applicant has been selected to open. One major use of the L-1 visa is to send employees of a foreign parent company to the US to open a subsidiary.

Direct Comparison: The L-1 Intracompany Transferee Visa vs. the H-1B Specialty Occupation Visa

Following are some of the most important features that distinguish the L-1 from the H-1 B specialty occupation visa:

  • The L-1 visa imposes no formal education qualifications Two caveats apply, however– (i) the applicant’s employer is likely to require a certain level of educational attainment and (ii) realistically, the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is unlikely to be convinced of an applicant’s qualifications if he or she lacks formal educational qualifications.
  • There are two types of L-1 visas — L-1A and L-1B (see below for a description), but only one type of specialty occupation visa.
  • The L-1 employee must come to the United States in the capacity of manager, executive, or “specialized knowledge employee”. The stereotypical L-1 visa holder is an employee of a Japanese parent company sent to manage a US subsidiary, while a stereotypical specialty occupation visa holder is an Indian national employed by a Silicon Valley startup.
  • The L-1 petitioner must be a “multinational company” — in other words, it must be doing business in the United States and in at least one foreign country, and it must be in a “qualifying relationship” with a company that is located overseas (parent/subsidiary, under common control of a third company, or branch offices of the same company). A specialty occupation visa petitioner must be a US employer but does not need to be a multinational.
  • The employee must have worked for the sponsoring employer or its affiliate in an overseas jurisdiction for at least one continuous year within the last three years. No such requirement applies to a specialty occupation visa applicant.
  • Successful L-1 applicants are granted one- or two-year initial stays, extendable to a maximum of seven years. Successful specialty occupation visa applicants are granted initial stays of one to three years, extendable to a maximum of six years. Time spent in one visa status will count against time spent in the other visa status — three years in specialty occupation status, for example, will count against the L-1 status maximum stay.
  • There is no intrinsic limit on how many L-1 visas can be awarded each year — in fact, over 100,000 L-1 visas are issued in a typical year. The specialty occupation visa, however, is subject to an annual quota — 65,000 visas for applicants with bachelor’s degrees and another 20,000 visas for applicants with master’s degrees and above.

L-1 Blanket Petitions

Perhaps the greatest convenience of the L-1 visa program is the availability of L-1 blanket petitions, a feature that is not available for specialty occupation visas. This innovation allows sizable multinational companies that need to transfer a relatively large number of employees overtime to avoid much of the paperwork associated with filing L-1 petitions individually.

An employer that qualifies to sponsor individual applicants for L-1 status can file a blanket petition that will allow large groups of applicants to be approved using only one application and a single filing fee. To qualify:

  • The U.S. company must have been in operation for at least one year;
  • The company must have at least three US and overseas affiliated companies; (companies under common ownership/control), branches or subsidiaries); and
  • The company must have successfully obtained at least 10 L-1 visa approvals over the past year; have US subsidiaries or affiliates with yearly sales of US$25 million; or employ at least 1,000 employees in its US operations (including its affiliates).

Despite the fact that an L-1 blanket visa is based on a group application, the last part of each individual application must be completed by the L-1 beneficiary. After an approved blanket petition, the employee must interview at a US embassy or consulate abroad, and consular officials are entitled to refuse someone’s visa application even if they accept the applications of other beneficiaries under the same blanket petition.

The L-2 Visa for Family Members of the L-1 Holder

The L-2 visa allows family members of the L-1 beneficiary to accompany him to the United States. Specifically, eligible relatives include the beneficiary’s spouse and any unmarried children under 21 (See 8 CFR 214.2(o)(1)(ii)(A)(1)). If your family members receive L-2 visas, they will be entitled to stay in the US as long as you do. If you are required to file an extension, they will be subject to the same requirement.

Conditions Attached to the L-2 Visa

Issuance of an L-2 visa is subject to the following conditions:

  • Your family members must submit L-2 applications;
  • You must indicate that you wish these family members to accompany you;
  • Your own L-1 visa application must be approved for at least one year;
  • Your marriage must be bona fide — that is, not entered into for the sole purpose of obtaining immigration benefits; and
  • Your marriage bust has been legal, not common law (same-sex marriages are considered bonafide as long as they are legal in the jurisdiction in which they took place).

Relatives other than spouses and children cannot be issued an L-2 visa. Your parents, for example, cannot receive an L-2 visa even if they are ill or elderly and you are responsible for caring for them.

Travel

As an L-2 visa holder, you will be able to travel in and out of the US during your duration of stay without seeking advance parole. Keep in mind, however, that if you relied on an L-2 change of status while inside the United States, you will not receive an L-2 visa — you will need to obtain one from a US embassy or consulate before you can return to the US from abroad. The same applies to the primary L-1 visa holder.

Think of a visa as a key to open the door of the United States. If you are already inside the US when you adjust to L-2 status, you will not need a key to get in and you will not be issued one. Although under these circumstances you can freely leave the US during the duration of your L-2 status, you cannot get back in until you receive a “key” from a US embassy or consulate abroad.

Work

The spouse of an L-1 visa holder may work while in the United States. Since there is some disagreement among various USCIS offices as to whether a spouse needs to apply for an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) before commencing work inside the United States, it is best to seek one before commencing work. Processing takes several weeks.

Children of L-1 visa holders may not work while in the US.

School

L-2 visa holders, including spouses and children, may freely enroll in school while in L-2 status.

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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What is an L-1A visa?

An L-1A visa allows a multinational to transfer an executive or manager from one of its affiliates to its office in the United States, either to continue existing operations or to establish the office in the first place, in an executive or managerial capacity. L-1A visa holders are granted a three-year period of stay, extendable in two-year increments up to a maximum of seven years., but are only granted an initial period of stay of one year to open a new office. L-1 status will not be extended beyond seven years.

What is an L-1B visa?

An L-1B visa allows employers to transfer specialized knowledge employees from a foreign company to a US affiliate. Specialized knowledge employees are often viewed as executive or managerial positions without subordinates.

The head of a company’s R&D department might qualify as a specialized knowledge employee, for example. An L-1B visa holder is typically allowed an initial stay of three years or one year to help open a new office. The L-1B can be extended up to only five years, as opposed to seven years for an L-1A visa.

What is a “specialized knowledge” capacity?

An L-1 employee working in a specialized knowledge capacity must possess:

  • Deep knowledge of the company’s product, service, research, equipment, techniques, management, or other interests and its application in international markets,
  • An advanced level of knowledge that is so unique that the employee is unlikely to be easily replaced either within the company or through a lateral hire from a competitor;
  • The knowledge is uncommon and critically important to the employer’s US operations.

What is “managerial capacity” for L-1A purposes?

For L-1A purposes, an L-1 employee working in a managerial capacity must:

  • Supervise at least three workers in managerial, supervisory, or professional roles (or heads a key department such as R&D);
  • Have the authority to hire, fire, and recommend; and
  • Manage a department, subdivision, function, or component of the organization representing at least a portion of the company’s day-to-day operations.

What is “executive capacity” for L-1A purposes?

For L-1A purposes, an “executive” is someone who:

  • Directs at least a portion of the company’s day-to-day operations;
  • Sits at least two tiers of authority above rank-and-file workers (executive–lower-level managers–rank-and-file workers).
  • Participates in the establishment of company policies, guidelines, procedures, and goals.
  • Is empowered to make discretionary, executive-level decisions, both inside the company (top-down) or as a representative of the company with third parties (relationships with suppliers, etc.).
  • Supervises senior company employees, but is himself subject only to close supervision from his own superiors (company directors, for example).

What is “dual intent”?

Dual intent means the intention to both come to the United States on a temporary nonimmigrant visa as well as the intention to eventually obtain permanent residence. For many types of US visas, you will be required to demonstrate an intent to return to your home country when your visa expires, and you will be expected to maintain ties to your home country while you are in the US.

This is not the case with L-1 visas or with H-1B visas. Since both of these are dual intent visas, it is perfectly acceptable to intend to eventually seek permanent residence in the US while holding one of the visa statuses. You can even petition for permanent residence while holding L-1 or H-1B status, an action that could get you into trouble if you hold, say, a J-1 visa.

How long does L-1 visa processing take?

L-1 visa processing typically takes two to four months, but only one to three weeks if a blanket petition has already been approved. If you select Premium Processing for an extra $1,225 fee, however, the USCIS guarantees processing (not necessarily approval) within 15 days.

What is the best way to obtain a green card starting from an L-1 visa?

Most L-1A visa holders who seek a green card go for the EB-1C visa category. The qualification standards for the EB-1 visa in the “multinational manager or executive” category are very similar to the qualification standards for the L-1A visa, and no labor certification is required. The qualification standards are more competitive, of course, since acceptance will get you a green card rather than just a few years living in the United States.

Remember that just because you qualified for L status doesn’t mean you will qualify for a green card, even if the stated qualification standards (“multinational manager or executive”, for example) are virtually identical — it is naturally more difficult to qualify for a green card than to qualify for a nonimmigrant visa such as the L-1 visa.

Overview of L-1 Visa Application Processes and Procedures

The typical process for preparing an L-1 visa petition involves the following steps:

  • Gather documentation proving that the US host company and the foreign company are legally established entities; a “qualifying relationship” exists between the foreign company and the US host company (branch, subsidiary, or affiliate); the employee beneficiary must have worked for the dispatching company for at least one out of the last three years; the employee beneficiary’s job duties quality him under L-1A (manager or executive) or L-1B (specialized knowledge), and certain other essential matters.
  • L-1B applicants must obtain PERM labor certification (not required for L-1A applicants).
  • File Form I-129 and I-129L plus the filing fee of $460 (the USCIS is currently attempting to drastically increase the filing fee);
  • Respond to any Requests for Evidence (RFEs) you receive from the USCIS;
  • Wait to receive the USCIS Approval Notice; and
  • Apply for the visa at a US embassy or consulate overseas, if you are located overseas.

Contact Us Today

If you need help applying for an L-1 visa, or if you have other immigration needs, contact us any time from anywhere in the world by calling (+1) (800) 808-4013 or (+1)(614) 300-1131 or by completing our online contact form). Please be advised that our immigration attorneys speak 12 different languages including Arabic, Chinese, Japanese, Russian and Spanish, and more.

We maintain offices in Cleveland, Columbus, Detroit, Toledo, Youngstown, Dayton, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Buffalo, Dallas, and Miami, among other locations. No matter how you contact us, we can schedule you a free, confidential initial consultation. We will listen carefully to your story and help you consider various options. We can help you avoid common errors that could cost you months of delay or even result in the rejection of your petition.

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