The L-1 Visa (or L Visa) is a non-immigrant employment visa for an intra-company transferee—in other words, a foreign worker already employed by a US employer. This visa permits these employees to move to their US office temporarily.
Put another way, the L-1 Visa enables qualifying foreign entities to expand their operations into the United States through the creation of a new office. This can be done by sending a qualifying executive, manager or specialized knowledge professional to the US, granting them an L-1 Visa to establish, set up, manage, run, and/or work in the new office.
What type of L-1 Visa do I need?
L-1A Visa for Executives & Managers
The L-1A nonimmigrant classification enables a US employer to transfer an executive or manager from one of its affiliated foreign offices to one of its offices in the United States. This classification also enables a foreign company which does not yet have an affiliated US office to send an executive or manager to the United States with the purpose of establishing one.
L-1B Visa for Specialized Knowledge
The L-1B nonimmigrant classification enables a US employer to transfer a professional employee with specialized knowledge relating to the organization’s interests from one of its affiliated foreign offices to one of its offices in the United States. This classification also enables a foreign company which does not yet have an affiliated US office to send a specialized knowledge employee to the United States to help establish one.
What is considered specialized knowledge? “Specialized knowledge” is loosely defined in the law as knowledge of a company’s product and its application in foreign markets, or an advanced level of knowledge regarding the processes and procedures of the company.
The employee must have highly advanced technical expertise or understand the products, services, organizational makeup, marketing strategies, and other unique knowledge regarding the operation of the company.
The knowledge must be narrowly held by key personnel within the company, require unusual knowledge beyond that of a skilled worker, and must be knowledge that isn’t attainable during a short period of time.
How do I qualify for an L-1 Visa?
Because an employer has to petition for an L-1 Visa on behalf of their employee, both parties must meet certain requirements.
Employer Qualifications for an L-1 Visa
The employer petitioning on behalf of the employees must meet the following requirements:
The employer has a qualifying relationship with a foreign company (parent company, branch, subsidiary, or affiliate).
The employer is currently, or will be, doing business as an employer in the United States and in at least one other country directly or through a qualifying organization for the duration of the beneficiary’s stay in the United States as an L-1 Visa.
The employer has secured sufficient physical premises to house the new office.
The intended US office will support an L-1 executive or managerial position within one year of the approval of the petition.
The sponsoring employer (also known as the petitioning employer) must be doing actual business in the foreign country. (Merely having an office there would not qualify.)
Employee Qualifications for an L-1 Visa
Only certain employees may qualify for an L-1 visa.
The employee must be:
For L-1A: An executive or managerial employee.
For L-1B: An employee with specialized knowledge of the company’s operation.
The employee must have worked in the company’s foreign office in a similar capacity for at least one (1) year in the three (3) years prior to the transfer. (Time spent in the US is not counted towards this one-year requirement, even if the US trip was for the same company.)
The employee’s transfer must be within the same company, its subsidiary, or affiliate.
The employee must work in a similar capacity once transferred to the US.
The US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) will demand thorough documentation from each petitioner and applicant to prove that the visa candidate qualifies for either the L1-A or L1-B Visa.
Is an L-1 Visa difficult to get? On one hand, applying for an L-1 Visa may appear to be an easier option for some employers and workers. Unlike other work visas (such as the H-1B), there is no quota on L-1 Visa approvals, so an unlimited number can be issued every year. The application process is also quite straightforward if you look at step-by-step guides. USCIS data shows, however, that fewer L-1 applications have actually are being approved. There is no official reason as to why the rejection rate has increased, but visa lawyers and advisors urge applicants to be thorough and well-prepared in their applications. One of the most common obstacles, for instance, is when visa officers question whether the candidate is really an “executive,” “managerial,” or “specialized” employee. The USCIS has some definitions of these terms, but these definitions still leave much to a visa officer’s discretion. Petitioners and visa candidates must be ready to face strict questioning and prove the type of employee being transferred.
How do I apply for an L-1 Visa?
Applying for an L-1 Visa
The employer must file a Form I-129 (Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker), along with a fee of $460, on behalf of the employee. The same form is used for both L-1A and L-1B Visas.
How long does it take to apply? The entire L-1 Visa process may take from six months to a year. The length of processing time largely depends on the embassy or consulate of the applicant’s home country. USCIS premium processing is a faster visa application method. It expedites the process to just 15 calendar days. If you are Canadian, you can apply for and obtain an L Visa at a US Port of Entry on the same day you apply.
Can I reapply if my application is denied? If your initial L-1 Visa application has been denied, you can apply as many times as needed. There is no limit on how many times an individual is allowed to reapply. Keep in mind, however, that visa officers will review the reasons for your prior rejections and scrutinize why they should overturn that decision in your favor this time.
How long can I stay in the US on an L-1 Visa? And can I renew or extend my L-1 Visa?
L-1 Visa Durations & Extensions
Typically, the initial duration granted for an L-1A Visa for opening a new office is one (1) year, and the initial stay for all other L-1A Visa or L-1B Visa employees is three (3) years.
At the end of the initial period of stay, extensions may be granted in two (2) year increments until the employee reaches the end of their maximum stay. The L-1A visa allows a maximum total stay of seven (7) years, while the L-1B visa has a maximum of five (5) years, regardless of how many years you were initially granted.
Can I renew my L-1 Visa? Upon the ending of your stay period, you may request two-year extensions until you reach the maximum length of stay. For example, if you were granted an L-1A Visa for an initial period of three years, you may request to extend it by two years, and then later, request another two years, for a total of seven.
In some cases, you can extend beyond the 5-year and 7-year limits. There are two exceptions to the normal limits placed on L1B and L1A visa holders:
The employee does not reside continually in the United States and works in the United States less than six (6) months each year
The employee resides abroad and commutes to the United States for a part-time position
We commonly encounter this scenario when a Canadian company has US offices allowing their employees to commute back and forth on an as-needed basis. When taking advantage of this exception, it is important to keep a detailed record of time spent in the United States and abroad.
What happens after I get an L-1 Visa?
FAQs about L-1 Visas
Can my spouse and children come with me to the US? Any spouse and children under the age of 21 may accompany or follow an L-1A or L-1B Visa holder as an L-2 nonimmigrant.
Are there travel restrictions for L-1 Visa holders? Yes, they can travel outside the US and then return while the L-1 Visa is still valid. However, any time spent outside the US will be counted towards the visa’s stay period. In other words, the clock will not stop running if the L-1 Visa holder takes a work trip or a vacation outside the US.
Can I “transfer” an L-1 visa? An L-1 Visa cannot be “transferred” to a different company. That is, an L-1 Visa-holding employee cannot apply for another job other than the one they have on their visa application. However, the L-1 Visa can be converted to a different visa type via a “change of status.” For instance, an L-1 Visa holder may request a change of status to an H-1B Visa, a type of work visa that allows the worker to move to a different job or employer.
We Can Help You Apply for L-1 Visas
At Richards and Jurusik Immigration Law, we focus our legal practice on the Immigration and Nationality Laws of the United States. Our specialized practice has more than 20 years of experience with L-1 Visas and assisting foreign employers seeking to expand business operations through the addition of new offices within the United States, from providing a free assessment of your case to determining your eligibility and assisting you with the application process.
Richards and Jurusik Immigration Law regularly creates video content about the current state of a certain aspect of US immigration law, and how it applies to Canadians living and working in the United States today.