L1 Visa Guide: Everything You Need to Know About the L1 Visa

L1 Visa Guide: Everything You Need to Know About the L1 Visa

 

The L1 visa is a powerful immigration option for people looking to live and work in the USA. The L1 visa allows foreign businesses to transfer certain employees to a US branch, parent, subsidiary, or affiliate company.

 

In this guide, I will discuss what you need to know about the L1 visa.

 

If you have any questions about the L1 visa, email me directly at Michael@AshooriLaw.com. My team of US immigration lawyers and I would be happy to help you get your L1 visa.

 

Overview:

 

1. What is the L1 Visa?

 

2. What are the Benefits of an L1 Visa?

 

3. What are the L1 Visa Requirements?

 

4. Common Issues Regarding Managers, Executives, and Specialized Knowledge Workers

 

5. Special Rules for L1 New Office Petitions

 

6. What Documents are Needed to Apply for an L1 Visa?

 

7. How to Apply for an L1 Visa

 

8. L1 Extensions

 

9. L1 Blanket Visa

 

10. How to go from an L1 Visa to Green Card

 

11. Conclusion

 

1. What is the L1 Visa?

 

The L1 Visa is a non-immigrant visa which allows foreign companies to transfer a manager, executive, or person with specialized knowledge to a US company. The US company must be a branch office, parent, subsidiary, or affiliate of the foreign company.

 

The employee that is transferred must work for the US company as a manager, executive, or person with specialized knowledge. If the employee will work as a manager or an executive, the visa is specifically called an L1A visaIf the employee will work as a person with specialized knowledge, the visa is specifically called an L1B visa.

 

The L1 visa is not a eligible for self-petition. The US company must file the petition on the employees behalf. Therefore, the US company is considered the petitioner, and the L1 visa recipient, is considered the beneficiary.

 

The L1 visa allows you to live and work in the United States for extended periods of time and also provides immigration benefits for your spouse and children.

 

Summary:

 

  • The L1 visa is a non-immigrant visa that allows foreign companies to send certain employees to a related US company.

 

  • The US company must be a parent/subsidiary, branch office, or affiliate of the foreign company.

 

  • If the employee will work for the US company as a manager or executive this is classified as an L1A visa.

 

  • If the employee will work for the US company as a specialized knowledge worker this is classified as an L1B visa.

 

  • The US company that the employee will work for must file the petition on behalf of the L1 worker. The US company is the petitioner, and the L1 worker is the beneficiary.

2. What are the Benefits of an L1 Visa?

 

i. Ability to Live and Work in the USA

 

  • With an L1 visa, you are authorized to live in the United States and to work for your L1 employer.

 

ii. Extended Period of Stay

 

  • The L1A visa for managers and executives is initially valid for a period of 3 years and can be extended for a total of 7 years.

 

  • The L1B visa for people with specialized knowledge is initially valid for a period of 3 years and can be extended for a total of 5 years.

 

iii. Dual Intent Visa

 

  • Many non-immigrant visas, such as the B1/B2 visitor visa, require that you have non-immigrant intent. This means that you must intend to return to your home country and that you do not intend to immigrate to the United States.

 

  • The L1 visa is a dual-intent visa, meaning that you may have the intent to temporarily remain in the United States while simultaneously having the intent to possibly immigrate to the United States and become a lawful permanent resident in the future.

 

iv. No Set Wage Requirements

 

  • The L1 visa does not require that the US company pay you a certain wage.

 

  • Some visa categories require that you get paid a wage commensurate with your position and job title. The L1 does not have this requirement.

 

  • Your US employer will still have to comply with state and federal minimum wage laws.

v. Immigration Benefits for Your Family

 

  • By getting approve for an L1 visa, your spouse and unmarried children under 21 years old are eligible to accompany you in the United States.

 

  • Your spouse and unmarried children would obtain L2 status as your dependents.

 

  • Your spouse can obtain employment authorization to work in the United States.

 

  • Your children can attend US schools and get a US education.

 

vi. L1 Visa is Eligible for Premium Processing

 

  • The L1 visa is eligible for premium processing.

 

  • Premium processing is a service provided by USCIS where they expedite the processing of your L1 petition for an additional fee of $1,225.

 

  • If you select premium processing, USCIS will issue a response to you L1 petition within 15 days.

 

vii. No Annual Limit to the Number of L1 Visas Issued

 

  • There is no annual limit to the number of L1 visas that can be issued.

 

  • This is contrary to other visas, such as the H-1B visa, which has an annual quota.

 

3. What are the L1 Visa Requirements?

 

In order to get an L1 visa, there are 4 main requirements:

 

  • There must be a qualifying relationship between the foreign company and the US company.

 

  • The employee coming to work in the US must have been continuously employed full-time by the foreign company for at least 1 year within the last 3 years before filing the L1 petition.

 

  • The employment with the foreign company must have been in a managerial, executive, or specialized knowledge capacity.

 

  • The employee’s work for the US company must be in a managerial, executive, or specialized knowledge capacity.

 

i. There must be a qualifying relationship between the foreign company and the US company.

 

  • The L1 visa is for foreign companies to transfer certain workers to a US company. In order to get an L1 visa, there must be a qualifying relationship between the foreign company and the US company.

 

There are 3 types of relationships that qualify:

 

  • Parent/Subsidiary

 

  • Branch Office

 

  • Affiliate

 

Parent/Subsidiary

 

There are 3 types of relationships that qualify as a parent/subsidiary relationship:

 

  • One of the companies owns more than half of the other company

 

  • One of the companies is a 50% partner of the other company, which is a joint venture. In this situation, the parent company must have equal control and veto power over the subsidiary company.

 

  • One of the companies owns less than half of the other company but has control over the company.

 

Branch Office

 

  • A branch office is the same company as that parent company, but is operating in a different location.

 

  • To qualify for L1, the branch office must be registered as a foreign corporation operating in the US.

 

Affiliate

 

There are 3 types of relationships that qualify as an affiliate relationship:

 

  • Two companies that are both owned and controlled by the same parent company or person.

 

  • Two companies that are owned and controlled by the same group of people. Each person must own and control roughly the same proportion of each company.

 

  • Some multinational accounting firms.

 

Duration of the Qualifying Relationship

 

  • There must be a qualifying relationship between the US company and a foreign company throughout the duration of the L1 beneficiary’s stay in the US.

 

  • For existing US business L1: the qualifying relationship does not have to be between the US company and the same foreign employer that the beneficiary worked for. Any qualifying relationship with a foreign company should suffice.

 

  • For new business L1: if the US business is considered a “new business” (discussed below), the foreign company that the US worker worked for must continue to operate and must maintain a qualifying relationship with the US company.

 

ii. The employee coming to work in the US must have been continuously employed full-time by the foreign company for at least 1 year within the last 3 years before filing the L1 petition.

 

  • To qualify for an L1 visa, the foreign worker seeking transfer to the US must have been continuously employed by the foreign company, full-time, for at least 1 year within the last 3 years prior to filing the L1 petition.

 

  • The employment must be continuous

 

  • Periods spent in the United States in lawful status for a branch of the same employer or a parent, affiliate, or subsidiary and brief trips to the United States for business or pleasure will not interrupt the one year of continuous employment abroad but those periods will not count towards the year of qualifying employment. [Code of Federal Regulations Section 214.2(l)]

 

  • The entire year of qualifying employment should be satisfied by the time the L1 application is filed.

 

  • The employment must be full-time (at least 35 hours a week). There is 1 exception to the full-time requirement in certain circumstances where the L1 beneficiary worked for multiple affiliated companies.

 

iii. The employment with the foreign company must have been in a managerial, executive, or specialized knowledge capacity.

 

  • To qualify for an L1 visa, you must have worked for the foreign company in a managerial, executive, or specialized knowledge capacity.

 

Managerial Capacity

 

Managerial Capacity means that you primarily:

 

  • Manage the organization, or a department, subdivision, function, or component of the organization;

 

  • Supervise and control the work of other supervisory, professional, or managerial employees, or manage an essential function within the organization, or a department or subdivision of the organization;

 

  • You have the authority to hire and fire or recommend those types of personnel actions for employees directly supervised. If no employees are directly supervised, you function at a senior level within the organizational hierarchy or with respect to the function managed;

 

  • And, you exercise discretion over the day-to-day operations of the activity or function that you have authority over. A first-line supervisor is not considered to be acting in a managerial capacity just by virtue of their supervisory duties unless the employees supervised are professional. [Code of Federal Regulations Section 214.2(l)]

 

Executive Capacity

 

Executive Capacity means that you primarily:

 

  • Direct the management of the organization or a major component or function of the organization;

 

  • Establish the goals and policies of the organization, component, or function;

 

  • Exercise wide latitude in discretionary decision-making;

 

  • And, receive only general supervision or direction from higher level executives, he board of directors, or stockholders of the organization. subdivision, function, or component of the organization. [Code of Federal Regulations Section 214.2(l)]

 

Specialized Knowledge

 

  • Specialized knowledge is “special knowledge of the company product and its application in international markets” or “an advanced level of knowledge of processes and procedures of the company” [INA Section 214(c)(2)(B)]

 

What is special knowledge of the company product and its application in international markets?:

 

  • Special knowledge here means distinct or uncommon in comparison to what is typically found in the particular industry.

 

What is an advanced level of knowledge of processes and procedures of the company?:

 

  • This means "knowledge or expertise in the company’s 'specific' processes and procedures that is 'not commonly found in the relevant industry' and is 'greatly developed or further along in progress, complexity, and understanding than that generally found within the employer.'" [Business Immigration: Law and Practice, 2nd Ed. Chapter 11 L1 Visas and Nonimmigrant Status]

 

iv. The employee’s work for the US company must be in a managerial, executive, or specialized knowledge capacity.

 

  • To qualify for an L1 visa, you must be coming to the United States to work for the US company in a managerial, executive, or specialized knowledge capacity.

 

  • The same definitions for managerial, executive, and specialized knowledge capacity apply for this requirement (see above).

 

4. Common Issues Regarding Managers, Executives, and Specialized Knowledge Workers

 

Managers and Executives

 

  • If you will be working for the US company as a manager or executive, your specific visa classification is L1A

 

  • For managers and executives, USCIS is mainly analyzing whether you will primarily be engaged in the managerial or executive function.

 

  • The more your position is focused on the day-to-day operations of the business instead of the management of those operations the less likely it is that your position will qualify as a manager or executive.

 

  • If the US company is small and only has a few employees, there is a strong chance that USCIS will presume that you will primarily be focusing on the day-to-day operations of the business and that your business does not support a managerial or executive position. This is one of the biggest reasons L1 petitions get denied.

 

  • In order to overcome a denial you should provide evidence including an organizational chart of the US company and a detailed breakdown of all the functions you will perform for the US company along with percentages of time you will spend on each function.

 

Specialized Knowledge Worker

 

  • If you will be working for the US company as a specialized knowledge worker, your specific visa classification is L1B.

 

  • To satisfy the specialized knowledge category, you must show that the knowledge you have is not commonly held.

 

  • To overcome a finding that your knowledge is not specialized, you should provide evidence of the number of years you have been developing the knowledge, evidence of how your knowledge has benefited the foreign company, other evidence of the complexity and sophistication of the knowledge you possess, etc.

 

Switching from L1A to L1B

 

  • You are not required to work in the same capacity for the US company as you did for the foreign company.

 

  • If you worked for the foreign company as a specialized knowledge worker, you can come to the US company to work as a manager or executive.

 

  • If you worked for the foreign company as a manager or executive, you can come to the US company to work as a specialized knowledge worker.

 

  • Regardless of the position you will be working in for the US company, to give yourself a better chance at approval, you should show how the knowledge you gained in your capacity with the foreign company will be applied to your position with the US company.

 

5. Special Rules for L1 New Office Petitions

 

  • If the US business that you will be working for has been “doing business" for less than one year, it is considered a new office, and special rules apply to get an L1 visa.

 

What is a New Office?

 

  • A new office is a company that has been doing business in the US through a parent, branch, affiliate, or subsidiary for less than one year.

 

 

  • The mere presence of an office in the US does not qualify as “doing business” it must actually be conducting business activities.

 

New Office Petitions are More Strictly Scrutinized

 

  • L1 petitions for new offices are more strictly scrutinized.

 

  • In order to give yourself the best chance of approval, you should include a business plan with your L1 petition.

 

  • Here are some of the factors that USCIS looks for with a new office L1 application: 1. the amount of your investment, 2. your intended personnel structure, 3. the physical premises (office) you will be operating the business out of, and 4. the sustainability of the foreign company.

 

Special Rules for New Office L1A Managers and Executives

 

If you will be working for a new office in the US as a manager or executive:

 

  • There must be a qualifying relationship between the foreign company and the US company.

 

  • You must show that sufficient physical premises has been obtained to house the new office.

 

  • You must show that you have 1 year of continuous full-time employment with the foreign company as either a manager or executive.

 

  • Unlike with existing offices, if you intend to work as a manager or executive for the US company, your previous experience must have been as a manager or executive (not specialized knowledge).

 

  • You must also show that the US company will support a managerial or executive position within 1 year of approval of your L1 petition.

 

  • Unlike with existing offices, USCIS acknowledges that as a manager or executive for a new office, you are more likely to engage in the day-to-day operations of the business.

 

  • Rather than requiring that you primarily engage in managerial/executive tasks immediately, USCIS gives a period of 1 year for you to show that the US company will support a managerial position.

 

  • You can demonstrate the the US company will support a managerial position through various forms of evidence including: a business plan that will discuss the projections of the new office; information regarding the nature of the office describing the scope of the business, its organizational structure, ad its financial goals; the size of the investment in the US business and the financial ability of the foreign company to pay for your services and to begin operations in the US; and the organizational structure of the foreign company.

 

  • Unlike with existing offices, the initial status granted for a new office L1 is 1 year.

 

  • Before the expiration of the first year, to remain in valid L1 status, you are required to file an extension. In order for your extension to get approved, you must demonstrate that the US company now supports a managerial position.

 

  • The foreign company that you worked for much continue to operate and must maintain a qualifying relationship with the US company.

 

Special Rules for New Office L1B Specialized Knowledge Workers

 

If you will be working for a new office in the US as a specialized knowledge worker:

 

  • There must be a qualifying relationship between the foreign company and the US company.

 

  • You must show that sufficient physical premises has been obtained to house the new office.

 

  • You must show that the new office has the financial ability to pay for your services and to begin operations in the US.

 

  • For L1B new office petitions, it is also helpful to include evidence that the foreign company will continue to operate.

 

  • The foreign company that you worked for much continue to operate and must maintain a qualifying relationship with the US company.

 

  • In addition to the other requirements to get an L1 visa, specified above.

 

Important Note:

 

  • For both L1A and L1B, if you are an owner or major stockholder of the company, your L1 petition must be accompanied by evidence that your services are to be used for a temporary period and evidence that you will be transferred to an assignment abroad upon the completion of your temporary services in the United States. [Code of Federal Regulations Section 214.2(l)]

 

6. What Documents are Needed to Apply for an L1 Visa?

 

  • The evidence that you submit with your L1 petition is extremely important to getting your visa approved.

 

  • The specific documents you need to submit will depend on your particular case. Your immigration lawyer can help you determine exactly which documents you will need to provide, based on your particular case.

 

 

With that disclaimer, here is a general list of some of the documents you should expect to provide to your immigration lawyer:

 

  • Copies of your passport for you and your family

 

  • Your resume or CV

 

  • A detailed job description outlining your US job

 

  • A detailed job description of your position with your foreign company

 

  • General information for both the US company and the foreign company

 

7. How to Apply for an L1 Visa

 

Here’s a simplified breakdown of the process of getting an L1 Visa:

 

Step 1 - Hire an Immigration Lawyer

 

  • The L1 visa is an extremely complex visa category that requires experience, careful preparation, and strategy.

 

  • Your immigration lawyer will walk you through the process step-by-step, conduct and in-depth consultation with you, and provide you with a detailed list of the documents they need to prepare your L1 petition.

 

Step 2 - Document Gathering

 

  • At this stage, you will gather all the necessary documentation identified by your immigration lawyer, including a detailed description of your proposed job for the US company, evidence of your employment with the foreign company, and other pertinent evidence.

 

Step 3 - File Form I-129 and L Supplement

 

  • The Form I-129 is the Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker.

 

  • This is the Form your immigration lawyer will file to qualify you for an L1 visa.

 

  • Your immigration lawyer will also file the L-supplement along with the I-129.

 

  • Important Note: The L1 visa cannot be filed through self-petition. Your US employer is the petitioner and you, the prospective L1 recipient, are the beneficiary.

 

  • All of the supporting documents, such as your evidence of employment with the foreign company, CV, etc. will also be included with the I-129

 

  • Once your I-129 is approved, you are eligible to apply for an L1 visa.

 

  • If you are doing a Change of Status, your steps are complete upon I-129 approval.

 

Step 4 - Apply for L1 Visa

 

  • If you are not doing a Change of Status, then you will likely be applying for your L1 visa at the Consulate of your home country.

 

  • Upon approval of your I-129, you are eligible to apply for your L1 visa.

 

  • Your immigration lawyer can assist you with scheduling an interview at the Consulate and preparing the necessary documents.

 

Important Note for Canadian Citizens:

 

  • If you are a citizen of Canada, you may apply for your L1 directly at a US port of entry.

 

  • To do this, you would apply directly to the Customs and Border Protection Agency.

 

  • As a Canadian citizen, you are not required to file a petition with USCIS.

 

8. L1 Extensions

 

L1A Extensions

 

  • The L1A for managers and executives is initially issued for a period of 3 years.

 

  • The L1A is eligible to be extended 2 separate times for a period of 2 years on each extension.

 

  • You can stay in the US for a total of 7 years through L1A

 

L1B Extensions

 

  • The L1B for specialized knowledge workers is initially issued for a period of 2 years.

 

  • The L1B is eligible to be extended 2 separate times for a period of 1 year on each extension.

 

  • You can stay in the US for a total of 5 years through L1B

 

New Office L1 Extensions

 

  • A new office L1 is given an initial period of 1 year.

 

  • For L1A managers and executives, you are eligible to extend the L1 by showing that the US company supports a managerial/ executive position. To meet this requirement, the US company should have adequate staff to handle the day-to-day operations of the business.

 

Differences Between New Office Extensions and Existing Office Extensions

 

  • For L1 new office extensions, the specific foreign company that you worked for must stay open and operational in order to get the L1 extension approved.

 

  • For L1 existing offices, to get the extension approved, the specific foreign company that you worked for does not need to stay open and operational. There just needs to be a foreign company that has a qualifying relationship with the US company while you are in L1 status. However, it does not have to be the same foreign company you worked for.

 

9. L1 Blanket Visa

 

What is the L1 Blanket Visa?

 

  • The L1 blanket visa certification is for employers who frequently rely on the L1 visa to transfer foreign workers.

 

  • By getting an L1 blanket visa approval, L1 employees are eligible to apply for their L1 visa directly at the consulate without having to get their I-129 approved first.

 

Who Qualifies for an L1 Blanket Visa?

 

In order to qualify for L1 blanket certification:

 

  • The US company and all parents, subsidiaries, and other qualifying organizations must be engaged in commercial trade or services;

 

  • The US company must have an office in the US that has been doing business for one year or more;

 

  • The US company must have 3 or more domestic and foreign branch, subsidiaries, or affiliates;

 

  • And the US company and all other qualifying organizations must: 1. have obtained approval of petitions for at least 10 L1 workers within the last year; or 2. must have US subsidiaries or affiliates with combined annual sales of at least $25 million; or 3. have a US work force of at least 1,000 employees. [Code of Federal Regulations Section 214.2(l)]

 

10. How to go from an L1 Visa to Green Card

 

  • The L1 visa is a non-immigrant visa category. This means that the L1 visa is temporary and does not directly lead to a green card.

 

  • In order to go from an L1 visa to a green card, you will have to either apply for an adjustment of status, or apply for an immigrant visa abroad.

 

Adjustment of Status

 

  • An adjustment of status is when you go from non-immigrant status to immigrant status.

 

  • In order to do an adjustment of status, you must be lawfully present in the United States.

 

  • The entire adjustment of status process is done within the United States and you are not required to go abroad.

 

Apply for Immigrant Visa

 

  • Alternatively, you can choose to apply for an immigrant visa abroad.

 

  • This process is referred to as Consular Processing, Visa Processing, or Immigrant Visa Processing.

 

Regardless of which route you choose, you will have to apply for and qualify for an immigrant classification. Here are some potential options:

 

EB1C

 

  • The EB1C visa is an immigrant visa classification for multinational managers and executives.

 

  • The EB1A visa is very similar to the L1A visa.

 

EB1C Requirements:

 

In order to qualify for an EB1C green card, you must show that:

 

  • You were employed by a foreign company for 1 year within the last 3 years immediately prior to applying for the EB1C.

 

  • You must have worked for the foreign company as either a manager or executive.

 

  • You must be seeking the EB1C classification to work for a US employer that is a branch of the foreign company, an affiliate of the foreign company, or a subsidiary of the foreign company.

 

  • Your position with the US company must be as a manager or executive.

 

  • The US company must have been doing business for at least 1 year.

 

Work Sponsorship

 

  • Another option is that your employer can sponsor you for a green card through a job offer.

 

  • In order to do this your employer will have to apply for and get approved for a Labor Certification.
  • The Labor Certification certifies that your employer attempted to and was unable to find a qualified US worker for the position they are offering you.

 

EB-5

 

  • The EB-5 visa is an investment-based immigrant visa.

 

  • To qualify for an EB-5 visa, you must invest a minimum of $1 Million (or $500,000 in certain economically depressed areas) in a US business.

 

  • You must also create a minimum of 10 full-time jobs for US workers among other requirements.

 

Marriage

 

  • Entering into a legitimate, bona-fide, marriage with a US citizen or lawful permanent resident can also enable you to apply for a green card.

 

11. Conclusion

 

  • The L1 visa is a powerful option for people to transfer from a foreign company to a related US company.

 

  • With an L1 visa, you can live and work in the United States for extended periods of time.

 

  • You may also be able to convert your L1 visa to a green card through the EB1C classification.

 

  • Please note: The L1 visa is highly complex. In recent years, USCIS has become much more strict and critical over L1 petitions, based on widespread abuse. In order to give yourself the best chance of getting your L1 visa approved, you should consult with an immigration lawyer as early as possible. Your immigration lawyer will assist you from start to finish and will help you implement the best course of action.

 

Quick Recap:

 

You should now have a much better understanding of:

 

  • What the L1 Visa is

 

  • The Benefits of an L1 Visa

 

  • The L1 Visa Requirements

 

  • Common Issues Regarding Managers, Executives, and Specialized Knowledge Workers

 

  • Special Rules for L1 New Office Petitions

 

  • The Documents are Needed to Apply for an L1 Visa

 

  • How to Apply for an L1 Visa

 

  • L1 Extensions

 

  • The L1 Blanket Visa

 

  • And How to go from an L1 Visa to Green Card

 

This is a lot of highly technical and detailed information. If you have any questions, or if you need help filing your L1 petition, email me directly at Michael@AshooriLaw.com. I’m a US immigration lawyer and I would be happy to help you.

 

Ashoori Law if a full-service immigration law firm focused on helping working professionals get visas to the United States.

 

Got a question? Lets Talk!

 

Resources:

 

 

  • Business Immigration: Law and Practice, 2nd Ed. Chapter 11 L1 Visas and Nonimmigrant Status

 

MichaelCircle

I'm Michael Ashoori, Esq. immigration lawyer based in beautiful Los Angeles, California. Email me at Michael@AshooriLaw.com to discuss how I can help. I'm here for you, let's talk.