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.
- A qualifying relationship must exist between the company sponsoring the L1 employee and a foreign company. A company can qualify as an L-1 sponsor if it is a parent company, subsidiary, branch, or affiliate. The employer has to be actively and continually delivering goods or services in the U.S. and at least one foreign country (merely having an office does not qualify).
In cases where the company has a parent/subsidiary relationship, it must own at least 50% of the company.
- The job of the beneficiary that is coming to the U.S. must meet the specified criteria.
L1-A: International executives or managers, who are transferring to a U.S. office to operate in that capacity.
- Executive – The highest level within a company that oversees the planning and supervises many different levels of both managers and workers under them.
- Traditional manager – Position that oversees other employees, including at least one managerial position.
- Functional manager – Where the person oversees an autonomous unit, such as research and development, who may not have any people underneath them but will work hand-in-hand with other sections 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.
L1-B: Specialized employees, who have essential specialist skills or knowledge.
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.
- Specialized knowledge – Knowledge of proprietary information about the company and its operations. The employee possesses knowledge that is not commonplace either within the industry or within the organization.
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.
- The number of employees, both at the overseas company and especially at the U.S. company, matters. We think that having less than five employees make it very difficult to get approved because a manager needs to oversee at least three while an executive even more.
- It is important to have correctly prepared documentation, including a credible business plan that should include the following elements:
- A description of the business products, services, and objectives with sales, cost, and income projection details in addition to market analysis.
- An outline of the organizational structure, employee experience/job descriptions, a timetable for hiring and an explanation of the staffing requirements.
- If applicable, a description of the manufacturing or production process that details any contracts executed for the supply of materials and/or the distribution of products.
Other Criteria and Entitlements
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.