The L-1 visa is an intra-company transfer work visa that allows a U.S. company to transfer executives, managers and specialized employees from one of its offices abroad into the United States. The petitioning company can be a corporation, charity (or other nonprofit organization), or a religious organization. Different types of qualifying organizations may also be permitted.
In reviewing L-1 petitions, USCIS takes into consideration such crucial elements as the relationship between companies, the size of the company, the job level of the transferring employee and the number of employees. Unless the L1 employer is already well-known (e.g. Coca-Cola), it is often necessary to provide in-depth documentation about the company to meet standards and requirements.
In cases where the company has a parent/subsidiary relationship, it must own at least 50% of the company.
Executives who are sole owners of companies can also meet the requirements for an L-1 visa but must establish employee status. An effective strategy to resolve this matter is to establish a Board of Directors and create employment agreements to indicate that the person is an employee who can be fired. This will only work if done correctly.
These types of employees do not have to be managers or executives but must possess knowledge and skills critical to the success of the company. The knowledge may relate to a wide range of topics including technology, services, or manufacturing processes.
The strategy is to show how the person is vital to key operations. Perhaps they know the “secret sauce” or have been around long enough to use essential techniques and methodologies. Maybe the company has an impressive work-culture and needs these people to bring that culture to its U.S. counterparts.
To qualify for an L-1A or L-1B visa, an employee must have worked for the company for one continuous twelve-month period within the previous 36 months. Any time spent working in the United States during this time will not count towards the twelve months.
Applicants who are already working in the U.S. for the L-1 sponsoring company with a different visa status can meet the one-year foreign employment requirement if employed within three years ‘prior to entry’ as opposed to three years ‘prior to filing.’
If the applicant takes any brief trips to the U.S. for business or pleasure, it will add to the continuous one-year employment abroad requirement.
The L-1A visa grants a maximum stay of up to 7 years and the L-1B visa grants a maximum stay of 5 years. If the employee has previously worked in the U.S. under an H visa type that time may be deducted from the allowed stay.
The amount of time it will take to obtain the L-1 visa is mainly determined by how difficult it is to supply the necessary documentation.
L-1 visas are particularly desirable because they are not subject to quotas, and depending on the situation, petitioners could eventually become eligible for an EB1-3 green card.