L-1 Visa

The L-1 visa is an intra-company transfer U.S. visa. It allows a U.S. company to transfer a key employee from one of its offices in another country into the United States.

What is L-1 Visa?

L-1 visa allows companies to open a U.S. operation for the transfer of its executives, managers and specialized employees. 

There are two types of L-1 visa:

  • L-1-A visa is for managers and executives, who are either transferring to a U.S. office, or coming into the US for the purposes of setting up a U.S. office.
  • L-1-B visa is for specialized employees, who have essential specialist skills or knowledge.

In either case, it is the employer (“petitioning employer”) that submits the visa application.

For both L-1-A and L-1-B, the employee must have worked for the corporation for one continuous 12-month period in the previous 36 months.

The L-1-A visa grants a maximum stay of up to 7 years. L-1-B grants up to 5 years. However, if the employee has previously worked in the U.S. under an H visa, that time may be deducted from the allowed stay.

L-1 Visa Requirements

Before applying, one must understand all L-1 visa requirements:

  1.  The petitioning company may be a corporation, charity (or other non-profit organization), or a religious organization. Other types of qualifying entities may also be permitted.
  2. The petitioning employer (in the US) must have a qualifying relationship with a foreign company. Types of qualifying relationships include: parent company, subsidiary, branch, or affiliate.
  3. The employer must be doing business as an employer in the US and in at least one foreign country. This means they are actively and continually delivering goods or services, simply having an office does not qualify.
  4. The employee must have completed a minimum of one year’s continuous employment for the company outside of the US within the three years immediately prior to the application. Any time spent working in the United States will not count towards the twelve months.
  5. The employee must intend to leave the United States at the end of the visa term.

L-1 Visa Case Processing Times

The L1 Visa processing time varies depending on the USCIS service center and the country from where the applicant applies. Right now California service center has wait time of two months. Generally, for applicants filing blanket petitions under form I-129 have an estimated time 4-6 months.

Typically, the average processing time for the I-129 petition is around six months. Consulate processing varies based on the home country but can be expected to take up to six months or longer. 

Processing Fees

What are the processing fees? Typically, the L-1 has two processing fees. The first processing fee is for fraud prevention which is payable by the employer for $500. What is fraud prevention? Fraud prevention is where a worker already holds a valid L-1 visa, but is planning on changing employers. The only exception to this fee is if the employee is filing to change status on their blanket petition. For example, L-1A to L-1B or L-1B to L-1A.

The second processing fee is for filing the form I-129 petition for non-immigrant worker. This processing is incurred by the employer and typically cost $460. Both of these fees should be paid at the same time a petition is filed, along with all the supported documents your attorney requires. 

Strategy Notes

The size of the company with regard to number of employees and revenues are considered. To establish an executive role, a company must have three tiers of employees, managers may need two or three tiers of employment.

Business plans with projections are important evidence and must comply with the case of Matter of Ho elements (reference).

Executives who are sole owners of companies can still meet the requirements but must establish employee status.

Making an L-1 Visa Application

Unless the petitioning company is already established and well-known, it may be necessary to provide extensive documentation to prove that the requirements are being met.

For the L-1-A visa, you may need to provide evidence that the employee occupies an executive or managerial role.

For the L-1-B visa, you may need to provide evidence to prove the employee’s level of skill, knowledge, or experience. This should be “specialized knowledge,” which means that their knowledge is not commonplace either within the industry or within the organization. The knowledge may relate to a wide range of topics including technology, services, or company processes.

L-1A Visa Attorney Tips

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L-1 Blanket Petitions

Large companies who are likely to want to move significant numbers of employees to the U.S. may choose to apply for a blanket petition. This does not mean that the company can then move as many employees as they wish, as each will require a separate L-1 visa application, but it does mean that the company relationships are already established, which can reduce the time, costs, and  risk of any subsequent L-1 applications.

To qualify for an L-1 Blanket Petition, the company must:

  • have at least three offices, whether in the U.S. or abroad;
  • have an office that has been doing business in the U.S. for at least one year;
  • plus meet at least one of the following criteria:
    • have filed at least ten successful L-1 petitions in the preceding twelve months;
    • have minimum 1,000 employees based in the US;
    • and be able to show company-wide total annual sales of at least $25 million USD.

Alternatives to the L-1 Visa?

  • The only directly comparable temporary work visa for people looking at L-1 visas is probably H1-B (specialty occupation), which has a maximum 3-year stay plus one possible 3-year extension (less than the 7 years available for L-1-A).

There are several feasible permanent residency options (green cards):

  • The L-1 is most similar to the EB1-3 visa (Green Card for multinational executive).
    • There is an important prerequisite that the beneficiary must have worked for a U.S. company for one year in recent years.
  • Other Green Cards for which an L-1 applicant might be eligible include:
    • EB2 (advanced degree / exceptional ability);
    • EB3 (skilled worker or professional);
    • EB1-1 (extraordinary ability).
  • Someone considering the L-1-A (executive) option may also be eligible for EB5 investor Green Card.
  • Those considering the L-1-B route are not typically eligible for the EB1-3 (Multinational exec.) as they are in a non-executive capacity. However, if they were in that executive capacity in their country of origin and came into the US in that capacity, they might be eligible for the EB1-3 Green Card.

L-1 Visa FAQs

“Must the company already have a U.S. office?”

No. It is permissible to transfer a manager or executive to the United States for the purposes of setting up a U.S. office.

“Can the employee’s family also stay in the United States?”

Yes, the employee’s spouse and any unmarried children under 21 may stay under an L-2 visa. The spouse may also work in the U.S.

“Can an employee switch jobs or employers?”

Yes, it may be possible to work for a new employer provided they obtain a new visa, such as H1.

“Can an employee do other work?”

No, under the terms of an L-1 visa, the employee must only work for the petitioning employer.

“Can I-765 (EAD renewal) be approved for L-2 while I-539 (I-94 extension of stay) is pending based on spouse’s (L-1A) I-94 which is already valid for the next 2 years?”

In a word, yes. If the extension of the L-2 was filed prior to expiration, it remains in the L-2 status until a decision is made or 240 days. Therefore, as a spouse of an L-1, the spouse is entitled to apply for and receive an EAD card during the pending period.

“Is the L-1 visa category a valid option for doctors and physicians?”

Yes, in fact we have created a video on this topic, which answers the top 5 questions asked about L-1 visas for doctors/physicians.

“Can an L-1A to EB1 GC be possible after 3 years of tenure in the U.S.?”

You may qualify for the EB1-2 visa (Green Card), which is the academic equivalent of the EB1-1.

The EB2 is a permanent residency US visa (Green Card) that enables the most outstanding professors or researchers in their fields to live and work permanently in the United States. To qualify, you must:

  1. Provide evidence of international recognition for outstanding performance in their particular academic field;
  2. Have at least 3 years’ experience in either teaching or research in the same academic area;
  3. Be seeking to enter the U.S. in order to pursue tenure or tenure-track teaching or research position at a university or comparable educational institution.
  4. Evidence provided must meet at least 2 out of 6 criteria set by USCIS. (Your immigration attorney will help you establish this.)

The EB1-2 is one of the more sought after green cards because it has current priority dates and has a high bar for qualification as applications are carefully scrutinized.

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