What is the L-1 visa?
The L-1 visa allows for the temporary transfer and relocation of a foreign-based employee to the United States. The visa is limited to employees who are classified in a managerial, executive, or specialized knowledge role for their company.
In a growing world where corporations and companies need to have locations in multiple countries, it is sometimes necessary to transfer high level employees to assist with operations abroad. For a company small or large, the L-1 visa allows a company to expand its business to the U.S. by transferring a manager, executive, or employee with specialized knowledge. The affiliated U.S. location can be a newly established office or an existing location, but must be a parent, branch, subsidiary, or affiliate of the foreign company.
What companies are eligible for the L-1 visa?
Petitioners for the L-1 must do so as an entity or company. In order for a U.S. company to qualify for the L-1, it must have a qualifying relationship with the foreign company. The petitioning employer must be able to prove that the U.S.-based location where the employee will be going is a parent, branch, subsidiary, or affiliate of the foreign company.
Employees who qualify for the L-1 visa are classified in two categories. If the employee is a executive or manager, he or she would be issued the L-1A visa for executives or managers. If the employee has specialized knowledge of both the industry and the company’s operations and products, he or she would be issued the L-1B visa for specialized knowledge employees.
How long is a L-1 visa good for?
The amount of time the L-1 visa is valid depends on the category of the visa and whether the U.S. company location is new or already established. The 2 main categories of the visa are the L-1A and L-1B visas.
L-1A visa (for executives or managers)
The L-1A is given to employees who fill a managerial or executive role at their company, and the duration of this visa may not exceed 7 years. If your company has been newly established in the U.S. (less than one year), the L-1A is granted for one year. If your company has existed for more than one year in the U.S., the L-1A visa is granted for 3 years. Extensions are available in two-year increments and the total stay for the manager or executive may not exceed 7 years.
L-1B visa (specialized knowledge employees)
The L-1B is designated for employees who possess specialized knowledge of their company and/or industry. The employee with specialized knowledge knows more about his industry and company’s products than the average employee, and this employee should be difficult to replace by the petitioning organization because of the experience and knowledge he or she has gained with the employer.
Initially, the L-1B visa is granted for 3 years (or 1 year of a new office in the U.S.). Extensions are available in 2-year increments, but unlike the L-1A, the maximum duration of this visa is 5 years.
Is the L-1 visa dual intent?
Yes, the L-1 visa is dual intent. Dual intent in U.S. immigration law means that some U.S. visas such as the L-1 allow foreigners to come to this country lawfully with the intent to immigrate permanently.
This is an advantage compared to other nonimmigrant visas because it allows the holder of an L-1 visa to apply for a green card to become a permanent U.S. resident without affecting the status or validity of the L-1 or other potential visa applications issued by the U.S. This also means that an L-1 visa holder is not required to maintain a foreign residence.
Going from L-1 visa to green card
It is common for L-1 visa holders to eventually apply for a green card since it allows for dual intent. The benefit of a dual intent visa like the L-1 is that the status of this visa is not affected if you decide to apply for permanent residence.
The L-2 visa: what about my family members?
Fortunately, an L-1 visa holder doesn’t have to leave the spouse and kids behind. The program allows for the legal spouse and unmarried children 21 years or younger to accompany the L-1 visa holder to the U.S. as dependents under the L-2 visa.
The L-2 visa is reserved for the spouse and children of an L-1 holder. It allows them to live in the U.S. and travel back to their home country as long as the L-2 is valid. Typically, the duration of the L-2 will match the duration of the L-1 visa holder’s visa.
Example: Mr. Lee is an executive at a Chinese company and his company successfully petitions for him to receive an L-1 visa to transfer to an existing branch in the U.S. Mr. Lee’s L-1 visa is valid for 3 years initially, and his wife and two children are allowed to come with him to the U.S. under the L-2 visa (also valid for 3 years initially).
Can an L-2 holder go to work or school?
Yes, an L-2 visa holder can attend school and get a job in the U.S. But, in order to work legally, an L-2 holder must apply for an employment authorization document (EAD) with USCIS. Children who are dependents under the L-2 are not eligible for work authorization and the EAD.
Once the application is approved and the spouse receives an EAD card, the next step is to apply for a Social Security number at a Social Security Administration office, if he/she does not have a SSN already. At that point, the L-2 visa holder with an EAD can work at any legal job, part-time or full-time.
Applying for an L-1 Visa
These are the basic steps that the petitioning employer must take when petitioning for the L-1 visa with USCIS:
1) File the Form I-129 (Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker) along with the included L Classification Supplement
2) Obtain a letter of support from the U.S. employer that details the job qualifications and what the employee’s duties will be, along with details of salary, employment history, and more. The qualifications and duties must satisfy the conditions of what a manager, executive, or specialized knowledge employee can do. The U.S. company must also prove its qualifying relationship with the foreign company with other documentation (must be a parent, branch, subsidiary, or affiliate).
3) Additional evidence that meets L-1 visa requirements.
Requirements from petitioner:
- A statement from an authorized official describing the company’s ownership structure and financial reports (if it is a large company).
- A statement from an authorized official proving a qualifying relationship with documents such as tax returns, accounting reports, articles of incorporation, meeting minutes, etc. (if it is a small business).
- A statement showing the foreign company’s ownership and control of the U.S. employer with documents such as articles of incorporation, bylaws, board meetings, bank statements, etc. (if it is a new U.S. office).
Requirements for the employee:
- Proof that the foreign employee has been employed abroad at a qualifying employer for at least one full (and continuous) year within the 3 previous years before coming to the U.S.
- The employee’s one full year of employment abroad before coming to the U.S. must have been in a capacity as executive, manager, or specialized knowledge employee for the company.
- Employee’s employment in the U.S. (if granted admission) must continue in a capacity as executive, manager, or specialized knowledge employee.
- Further requirements if the employee is being transferred to the U.S. to oversee the opening of a new office.
4) Applicable filing fees.
How long does the process take?
Once the petitioning employer has submitted the L-1 petition to the USCIS service center nearest the U.S. employer, the regular processing period can last between 3 months and 5 months.
USCIS also offers a premium processing service for petitions such as the L-1A and L-1B visas for an extra fee of $1,225. With premium processing, USCIS guarantees that a petition will be processed within 15 calendar days of receiving it. The Form I-907 (Request for Premium Processing Service) must be filed and paid for along with the L-1 petition. Once processed, a petition will receive one of these results:
- Approval notice
- Denial notice
- Notice of intent to deny (NOID)
- Request for additional evidence (RFE)
- Notice of investigation (for fraud or incorrect information)
Is the L-1 visa the right choice for your company?
In a nutshell, here are some advantages that the L-1 visa offers, to both the employer and employee:
1) There is no lottery, limit, or annual quota for the L-1 visa, unlike other work visas such as the H-1B (regular cap of 65,000 applications).
2) Employees are allowed to seek permanent residence (aka apply for a green card) because the L-1 is dual intent.
3) Employees are not required to maintain a foreign residence during their stay in the U.S., which can save families a lot of money.
4) Employees can bring their spouses and dependents with them to the U.S. (under the L-2 visa). L-2 holders who are adults are even able to work if they apply for an Employment Authorization Document (EAD).
Making the decision to transfer employees to the U.S. is a sign of growth for any company. That’s why you want experienced immigration attorneys who are trusted by their community to help you make your decision on the best type of visa based on your company’s needs and preferences.
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