An L-1 intracompany transfer visa is a type of temporary nonimmigrant visa. It allows a U.S.-based employer to request a transfer of particular categories of foreign employees who work for a parent company, subsidiary, branch, or affiliate located outside of the United States.
Alternatively, L-1 visas also permit foreign companies that do not yet have an office in the U.S. to send particular categories of foreign employees to the United States for the purposes of establishing a satellite office in the country.
In general, L-1 visas are divided into two separate classifications of workers: professional workers who have specialized knowledge and executive and/or managerial employees. Depending on which classification an employee falls under, they may either need to apply for an L-1A visa (i.e., those for executives and managers) or an L-1B visa (those for professional workers who have specialized knowledge).
Additionally, it should be noted that applications for L-1 visas are available for both small and large companies. Also, unlike some other categories of visas, the United States has not placed any restrictions on the number of L-1 visas it will grant each year. This can make it easier for an L-1 visa applicant to get approved.
To learn more about the L-1 visa application process or to find out whether you are eligible to apply for an L-1 visa, you should consult with an immigration attorney for further legal advice.
Who May Apply for an L-1 Visa?
Regardless of whether an application is for an L-1A or L-1B visa, both will require an employer to file a Form I-129, Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker, with the USCIS on behalf of the employee. The employer must also satisfy the following requirements:
- The employer must be connected to a foreign company through one of the qualifying organizations (e.g., branches, subsidiaries, satellite offices, etc.); and
- The employer must currently be or will be conducting business as a U.S.-based employer and in one or more other countries either directly or through a qualifying organization for the duration of a foreign employee’s stay in the United States.
The sponsored employee must also meet certain conditions, including:
- The sponsored employee must have been employed by a qualifying organization in another country for one full year within the three-year time period before they are admitted into the United States; and
- If a foreign employee is being sponsored for an L-1A visa, then they must also be seeking entry to the United States for the purposes of providing executive or managerial services to a satellite office of its employer or another kind of qualifying organization that is affiliated with the employer parent company; or
- If a foreign employee is being sponsored for an L-1B visa, then they must also be seeking entry to the United States for the purposes of providing services that involve their special knowledge capacity to a satellite office of its employer or another kind of qualifying organization that is affiliated with the employer parent company.
Although it is the employer and not the employee who will need to petition for an L-1 visa, an employer may still need additional information from the sponsored employee in order to prove that they meet all of the eligibility criteria.
Some Requirements for an L-1 Visa
One of the most important requirements for obtaining an L-1 visa is being able to determine which of the two L-1 classifications fit the description of the foreign employee’s job. For example, those who are seeking entry to the United States on an L-1A visa, will need to prove that they are either providing executive or managerial services, whereas those who are applying for an L-1B visa will need to prove that they have special knowledge.
The definitions for all three terms can be found on the website for the USCIS. Accordingly, petitioning employers should review these definitions and consult the document checklist for Form I-129, Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker, to ensure that they have solid evidence to support the L-1 classification that they choose.
Additionally, foreign employers sending manager or executive employees to establish a new office within the United States must also demonstrate that:
- The employer has secured a physical place to house the new office;
- The employer has the financial capacity to pay the employee and to operate a business in the United States (L-1B visas only);
- The employee has been employed for a period of one full year within the three years prior to filing for a L-1 visa (L-1A visas only); and
- The U.S. office would support an executive or managerial position within one year of being granted an L-1 visa (L-1A visas only).
How Is an L-1 Different from an H-1B?
Despite the fact that both of these types of visas are for nonimmigrant workers, there are a number of differences between L-1 visas and H-1B visas. For one, L-1 visa applicants may need specialized knowledge, but are not required to have a bachelor’s or higher education degree to prove that they do like someone would if they apply for an H-1B visa.
L-1 visa petitions can only be filed by employers who have companies in one or more countries, whereas employers filing a petition for an H-1B visa can be based in the U.S., regardless of whether or not they have a branch in another country.
In addition, there is no limit on how many L-1 visas may be issued by the United States in a given year. In contrast, there is a cap on how many H-1B visas are issued each year. Generally speaking, H-1B visas may be capped at 65,000 visas per year, not including the extra 20,000 that may be reserved for persons who hold a professional master’s degree.
One other difference to keep in mind about the two is that H-1B employees may transfer and accept a job offer with a new employer. L-1 visa holders must remain at their company for the duration of their stay.
How Long is the L-1 Valid?
In general, L-1 visas are typically valid for a maximum authorized stay of one full year if it is granted for the purposes of establishing a new office. On the other hand, if a U.S.-based office has already been in operation and a qualified employee is simply being transferred, then they will be allowed to remain in the United States for up to three years.
These requirements will normally apply to both L-1A and L-1B visas. However, there is a different time limit assigned to each type of visa when a qualified employee needs to request an extension of stay. For instance, a foreign employee who holds an L-1A visa can request to have their visa extended in increments of two years until the employee has reached the maximum limit, which is seven years.
By contrast, foreign employees who hold L-1B visas can request to have their visa extended in increments of two years until the employee has reached the maximum limit, which is five years. Thus, the only major timing difference between the two is that foreign employees who are executives or managers can remain in the United States for two years longer than foreign-based professional employees who have special knowledge.
May I Bring my Spouse and Children to the United States?
Foreign employees who are being transferred to the United States on the basis of an L-1 visa may bring their spouse and any unmarried children that they have who are under 21 years of age. L-1 visa holders who wish to bring their family members to the United States can file an application under the L-2 nonimmigrant category.
If such family members are already residing in the United States and wish to extend their stay or change their immigrant status, then they should apply by filing Form I-539, Application to Extend and/or Change Status, with the USCIS.
May I Apply for a Green Card?
Depending on an individual’s circumstances and the process they are using to apply, an L-1 visa holder may be able to apply for a green card, so long as they meet all of the necessary requirements.
For example, an L-1A visa holder can apply under the requirements for an EB-1C green card. Those looking to apply for a green card as an L-1B visa holder will need to abide by either the EB2 or EB3 visa requirements.
Do I Need a Lawyer?
The L-1 visa process can be very confusing due to the complexities of U.S. immigration laws and policies. This process is only made more complicated by the fact that such laws fluctuate on a yearly basis. Therefore, if you need assistance with applying for an L-1 visa, then it may be in your best interest to hire a local immigration attorney for further legal advice.
An experienced immigration attorney can make sure that you meet all of the requirements to obtain an L-1 visa and can help you file the necessary forms. Your attorney can also recommend other options for immigration visas if they believe that you will not be eligible to receive an L-1 visa.
In addition, if you need to renew your visa before it expires, your attorney will be able to help you with this process as well. Your attorney can also provide legal representation if you have overstayed your visa and need to appear in immigration court.