L-1 Visas & Status
Employers may utilize the L-1A and L-1B visa classifications to facilitate intracompany transfers to the United States. Through these nonimmigrant visas, eligible transferees may temporarily work in the United States in managerial or executive capacities, or as professionals with specialized knowledge. With no annual limit on the number of available visas, the L-1 category may be an attractive option for many foreign professionals. This article will provide a general overview of the L-1A and L-1B statuses as well as key information for you to know about the visas’ application process and duration.
Who May Qualify for an L-1A or L-1B Classification?
While both the L-1A and L-1B classifications permit intracompany transfers for foreign professionals, the two categories apply to different employee demographics.
L-1A status permits intracompany transfers for employees working in managerial or executive capacities. Federal regulations define both “managerial capacity” and “executive capacity.”
Employees work in a “managerial capacity” when the employee:
- Supervises and controls other professional employees’ workloads;
- Manages part of the company (ranging from managing the entire organization to managing a department or other component);
- Manages an essential function of the company;
- Possesses authority to take personnel actions (hiring, firing, promoting, etc.); and
- Exercises discretion over the day-to-day operations of the employee’s area of authority.
Employees work in an “executive capacity” when the employee:
- Makes decisions without significant oversight;
- Sets the goals and policies of the organization;
- Receives general supervision from the higher executives, board of directors, or stockholders; and
- Directs a major component of the organization’s management.
L-1B status permits intracompany transfers for employees working in a position requiring specialized knowledge. Federal regulations define specialized knowledge as either:
- Knowledge possessed about the employer’s product, research, management, or other relevant interests and its application in international markets, or
- Advanced knowledge or expertise in the employer’s processes and procedures.
Both L-1A and L-1B visas require the foreign professional to have worked abroad for the qualifying employer for at least one continuous year out of the prior three year period.
The L-1 classifications permit a U.S. company to conduct an intracompany transfer of a qualifying employee from one of its foreign offices to one of its U.S.-based offices. The classifications also permit intracompany transfers for foreign companies which wish to establish an affiliated U.S. office.
L-1 employers must meet two preliminary qualifications. First, the U.S. employer must have an intracompany relationship with a qualifying foreign company, subsidiary, or organization. This qualifying relationship can be established where either the foreign entity owns the majority of the U.S. entity or the U.S. entity owns the majority of the foreign entity.
Second, the employer must be doing business as a U.S. employer and as an employer in at least one other country. An employer satisfies the “doing business” requirement if the company has a regular, systematic, and continuous provision of goods or services. The standard is not met if the employer simply has an agent or office present in a country.
If an employer seeks an L-1A visa so that an executive or manager may establish a U.S. office, the foreign employer must establish:
- The employer has a physical location for the new U.S. office;
- The prospective transferee has worked as an executive or manager for at least one continuous year (within the prior three years); and
- The new U.S. office will support the foreign employee within one year of an approved petition.
If an employer seeks an L-1B visa so that a professional with specialized knowledge may establish a U.S. office, the foreign employer must establish:
- The employer has a physical location for the new U.S. office;
- The U.S. business entity will be a qualifying organization; and
- The employer will be able to pay the prospective transferee and begin doing business.
If you believe you qualify for either an L-1A or L-1B visa, you must work for a qualifying employer. For both visa types, your qualifying employer (also known as the “petitioner”) must file a completed Form I-129, Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker, with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (“USCIS”) on your behalf.
Some organizations are eligible to file blanket petitions demonstrating the required intracompany relationship prior to the employer filing an L-1 petition for each individual transferee. Blanket certification may be appropriate where:
- Both the employer and each qualifying organization engage in commercial trades or services;
- The employer has an existing U.S. office that has been doing business for at least one year;
- The employer has at least three domestic or foreign branches, subsidiaries, or affiliates; and
- The employer and qualifying organizations collectively either have:
- Obtained ten or more L-1 approvals during the prior year,
- S. affiliates with annual sales exceeding $25 million, or
- Employ at least 1,000 U.S. employees.
If a blanket petition is approved, the employer may conduct intracompany transfers of eligible employees without filing individual petitions each time with USCIS. However, L-1 classification is not guaranteed.
Typically, once a blanket petition is approved, the employer then completes a Form I-129S, Nonimmigrant Petition Based on Blanket L Petition. The foreign employee then presents the consular officer with the completed Form I-129S form, a copy of the blanket petition Approval Notice, and any other necessary evidence.
Some prospective L-1 employees are exempt from visa requirements. In those cases, the employer may opt to file the Form I-129S and other necessary evidence with an appropriate USCIS Service Center.
USCIS also provides employers with the ability to “bundle” L-1B petitions when a business need requires multiple employees with specialized knowledge to be transferred to the United States. The bundle must consist of petitions for employees working on the same project, in the same location, with the same specialized knowledge duties. While bundling is primarily for L-1B petitions, USCIS permits L-1A petitions to be included in the bundle so long as the L-1A transferees would manage the L-1B employees.
Duration of L-1A and L-1B Status
In general, if you enter the United States with an L-1A or L-1B visa, your status will initially permit a stay of up to three years. However, if your purpose is to establish a new office, your initial stay is limited to a maximum of one year.
If you receive an L-1A visa, you may request extensions in two-year increments, up to a limit of seven total years. L-1B visa holders may request extensions in two-year increments, up to a limit of five total years.
You may not switch employers for the duration of your L-1 status.
L-1 visa holders may have “dual intent.” Dual intent means that while you enter the United States for a temporary professional opportunity, you may simultaneously seek lawful permanent residence (also known as a Green Card). Ultimately, obtaining lawful permanent residence provides a pathway to U.S. citizenship.
Family Members of L-1 Visa Holders
If you receive an L-1 visa, your spouse and unmarried children under age 21 may accompany you or follow to join. Your family members may seek admission as L-2 nonimmigrants for the same time period as your L-1 status. L-2 nonimmigrants may study in the United States.
Like qualifying H-4 spouses of H-1B visa holders, L-2 spouses may work in the United States if they file for and receive an approved Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization.
Request a Consultation about L-1 Visas
Resources on L-1 Visas
We provide the following resources for the prospective employment-based permanent residence applicant.
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