Imagine you’re working for the tech giant, Google, in Dublin. You live and breathe your job, but you’ve always fantasized about living in the United States. With the USA L-1 Visa, you could theoretically relocate to the US and continue working for Google. Yup, you may be wondering, how is this possible?
In this ultimate guide to the USA L-1 Visa, we walk you through everything you need to know to successfully complete an inter-company transfer to the United States.
What is the L-1 US Visa?
The L-1 US Visa (intercompany transfer) is a work visa that the USA issues to foreign nationals wishing to legally work in the country. Unlike other visa categories, there is no limit to how many of these visas can be issued per fiscal year. The visa is issued to foreign workers who are already employed by the company in another country, and who simply wish to relocate to an American office. Visa holders who wish to partake in a long-term assignment at a US site or facility must also apply for the L-1 visa.
L-1 visa categories
The L-1A Visa, also known as the L-1A Intracompany Transferee Executive or Manager Visa, streamlines the relocation of foreign executives and managers to their company’s US offices. It can also be used by a foreign company without existing US branches to transfer an executive or manager for the purpose of establishing one. The USCIS imposes strict conditions that L-1 Visa applicants must meet to be considered for approval. Merely holding the title of “Manager” and supervising lower-level employees does not automatically qualify an applicant for the L-1A visa.
To qualify for the L-1A visa, applicants must meet the USCIS definition of an executive or manager. An executive is someone who oversees the day-to-day management, establishes company policies and goals, holds discretionary authority for executive decisions, and supervises high-level employees with minimal supervision from higher-level directors and stockholders. A manager is an individual who heads a key department, supervises higher-level workers, possesses hiring and firing authority, and directs daily company operations.
The L-1B Visa, known as the L-1B Intracompany Transferee Specialized Knowledge Visa, facilitates the transfer of foreign workers who possess specialized knowledge to the US. These specialized knowledge employees are crucial to various company functions related to its interests, with no specific guidelines outlining these functions. The USCIS relies on its officers’ discretion to determine eligibility.
Similar to the L-1A visa, the L-1B visa allows the relocation of employees for the opening of new branches, subsidiaries, or affiliates in the US. Obtaining an L-1B visa generally requires possessing “specialized knowledge” per the USCIS definition, which can be subjective and challenging for companies to navigate.
Specialized knowledge, as defined by the USCIS for L-1B visa purposes, refers to an employee’s extensive understanding of the company’s products, services, techniques, equipment, research, or management processes and how they apply internationally. This definition can be ambiguous, and meeting it involves more than just years of specialist experience. The knowledge must be unique enough to distinguish the employee from others in the same field, and in some cases, applicants must belong to specific professions.
To qualify for the L-1B visa, the foreign company must demonstrate to the USCIS that the applicant’s specialized knowledge is not commonly held in the international market and is essential for addressing key issues related to their US business interests. Evidence should include the time taken to acquire this knowledge, its value to the US company, and its uniqueness. Ultimately, the employee’s skill or knowledge must be indispensable to the organization’s operations.
Benefits of the USA L-1 Visa
- Freely live and work in the US with a temporary residence permit and work permit
- Travel in and out of the US on a valid L-1 visa
- Your dependents can live with you
- Your spouse can work
L-1 Visa Limitations
While the L-1 visa has many benefits, there are also some limitations to this visa category, for example:
- An employee must already be employed, and they need to be in an executive or managerial position or be a specialized knowledge worker, and they must have held that position for at least one year.
- The company that employs an L-1 visa holder must also meet certain eligibility requirements: They must be a multinational company that has a branch, affiliate, subsidiary or parent in the US.
- Because of the maximum period of stay, there is no possibility to extend the visa. At this point, the visa holder must either apply for permanent residency or apply for a different visa. If neither of these options is feasible, the visa holder must leave the US while their employer applies for a new L-1 visa.
L-1 Visa Requirements
Both the employer and employee must fulfill a set of requirements for the L-1 visa petition to be filed successfully.
Employer requirements: The employer located in the US and its foreign branch that employs the employee overseas must hold a qualifying relationship. Also note that during the applicant’s stay in the US, the employer must be conducting business in the United States and at least one other country. Because of these requirements, the L-1 Visa is more suited to large businesses than to small businesses.
Employee requirements: The foreign national must be employed by the foreign employer for at least one year within the previous three years, in a managerial, executive, or specialized knowledge position. Note, there is an exception to this rule. Namely, US locations that have been running for less than a year can qualify under a separate provision (L-1 New Office). With this visa, the applicant can work for the US company that filed the application.
The employer must prove one of the following three things:
- The foreign parent company holds at least 50 percent of the shares in the US subsidiary or vice versa
- Both parties are sister companies and are each owned at least 50 percent by the same parent company
- A US company maintains a permanent establishment abroad or vice versa
L-1 Blanket Petitions
Large companies that want to transfer a bunch of foreign workers over to the US offices can apply for a ‘Blanket Petition’. This enables companies to transfer a large volume of people over, although each individual will need a separate L-1 visa application to transfer.
To qualify for an L-1 Blanket Petition, the company must:
- Have at least three offices, whether in the US or abroad
- Have an office that has been doing business in the US for at least one year
Pus meet at least one of the following criteria for the Blanket Petition:
- Have filed at least ten successful L-1 petitions in the preceding twelve months
- Have at least 1,000 employees based in the US
- Be able to show company-wide total annual sales of at least US$25 million
How long is the USA L-1 Visa valid for?
L-1A visas have a three-year validity, and can be extended in two-year periods up to seven years (maximum). Meanwhile, L-1B visas can be approved for a maximum of three years, and then can be extended for two extra years (Up to five years validity).
If you opt to go for the ‘new office’ L-1 visa route, then note that visas are only approved for a one-year period. Extensions are possible, for a maximum of five years for the L-1B Visa or seven years for L-1A Visa.
The duration of validity of the L-1 Visa varies largely based on the relations of the country of origin of the worker with the United States. For countries such as India and Japan, the L-1 Visa is granted for five years, which can be extended for two years. If you’re applying for the L-1 Visa, please check the US government website to refer to the reciprocity schedule and check the status of your country. There are also certain exemptions granted to specific countries relating to documents and paperwork.
The following documents are needed when applying for the L-1 Visa from outside the US:
- Form DS-160, along with: Two current passport-sized photographs and a copy of the applicant’s US passport
- Form I-129: This must be filed at least 45 days before the employee’s start date, and no more than six months before employment begins.
- Consular Processing: The applicant will need to go to their home country’s US consulate or US embassy for an interview.
The application can be broken down into two simple steps:
- Initial application is lodged with the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) in the United States. They process all visa applications.
- After receiving your approval notice, the final application is done via the US Consulate.
For applicants outside the US, the process is as follows:
- US employer must then file Form I-129 with USCIS, including supporting documents.
- After USCIS approval, the employer receives Form I-797.
- File Form I-539 for a change of status.
- Attend a biometrics appointment if required.
- USCIS reviews the application and issues an approval notice.
The timeframe for processing the I-129 petition typically varies depending on the USCIS service center where it was submitted and the applicant’s home country. On average, it takes about six months for the I-129 petition to be processed. For consular processing, the wait time can also extend to six months or more, especially if there are Requests for Evidence (RFEs) involved.
Premium Processing offers a quicker alternative. Under this system, USCIS commits to processing the application within 15 calendar days, a significant improvement from the usual six-month wait. However, this expedited service comes with an additional fee of approximately $1,440 and does not guarantee visa issuance. If USCIS fails to process the application within 15 days, they will provide a full refund.
Extending your visa: supporting documentation:
The following supporting documentation is needed to extend your visa:
- Proof of the beneficiary’s employment for the duration of their time in the US
- Evidence of the beneficiary’s US work-relevant degree (or foreign equivalent)
- Letter for a foreign employer detailing the beneficiary’s previous three years of employment
- Support letter from petitioner, including alien’s salary, job duties, terms of employment, etc.
- Summary and proof of travel history outside of the US (boarding passes, passport stamps, etc.)
- Completed I-129 Petition
How much does an L-Visa cost?
Form I-129 (Petition for Nonimmigrant Worker) filing fee: $460
Anti-fraud fee (if applicable):$500
Premium processing (optional): $2,500
Can my family be included in the application?
The L-1 visa allows the applicant’s main family members to relocate, too. The applicant’s spouse and unmarried children under the age of 21 must apply for the L-2 visa. Once the children turn 21, they must change their nonimmigrant status or leave the US.
An added perk of the L-1 visa scheme is that spouses are allowed to work, and both the spouse and the children can attend college under the L-2 visa.
What other visas are similar to the USA L-1 Visa?
The United States has several other visa schemes to consider. Namely, the E2 and EB5 visa are attractive schemes that reward investors and entrepreneurs with work permits, and even a green card, provided that a substantial investment in the nation is made first. A pathway to attaining lawful permanent resident status is possible, provided that the investment is kept for a set number of years. Note that while the E2 visa is a non immigrant visa that doesn’t directly lead to a green card, the EB5 visa scheme does offer a legitimate pathway to a green card and permanent residency. For business-related visits to the US, such as business meetings, conferences, and negotiating contracts, you may want to consider the B-1 US Visa.
For more information, consult the following guides:
Frequently Asked Questions about the US L-1 Visa
Can my family join me in the L-1 Visa applications?
Yes, your spouse, and any unmarried children under 21 can stay in the US with the main application, although they must apply under an L-2 visa.
Can the employee do other work wile on an L-1 Visa?
Under the L-1 visa, visa holders must exclusively work for the petitioning company.
Must the foreign company already have a US office to be eligible for the L-1?
No, it’s not necessarily a prerequisite. It’s possible to transfer a person holding an executive or managerial capacity role to the US for the intent of setting up a new US office.
Can I get a Green Card on a L-1 visa?
For L-1A visa holders to get a Green Card, they must first be approved for some form of immigrant visa classification.
Given the significant overlap between L-1A and EB-1C Visa requirements, the EB-1C Visa is one of the most straightforward pathways for L-1A Visa holders to obtain a Green Card.
Once L-1A visa holders have received an EB-1C Visa, they can adjust their status and apply for a Green Card.
What type of L-1 visa categories exist?
The L-1A visa is given to people holding a managerial position within the company, as well as individuals with an executive capacity in the foreign company. Meanwhile, the L-1B visa is given to employees with specialized knowledge relating to their parent company.
Can I apply for an L-1 Visa while in the USA?
It is possible to do so, for example, if you’re currently in the US on a student visa, you could apply for an L-1. However, in circumstances such as these, you should consult with an immigration attorney to avoid the risk of unlawful presence.
Can I change jobs on an L-1 visa?
You can only change jobs within the same company, or to an affiliated company in the US. You must notify the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) of any significant changes in your employment.
How long can I stay in the US with an L-1 Visa?
With extensions, an L-1 Visa enables you to stay in the US for a maximum of seven years.
What are the requirements for an employee to be transferred to the US on an L-1 Visa?
Employer requirements: The US employer and its foreign branch employing the overseas worker must have a qualifying relationship. During the applicant’s US stay, the employer must conduct business in the United States and at least one other country.
Employee requirements: The foreign national must have worked for the foreign employer for one year within the past three years in a managerial or executive role or in a position involving special knowledge. There is an exception for US locations operating for less than a year, qualifying under L-1 New Office provisions. This visa allows the applicant to work for the US company that filed the application.
Should I hire an immigration lawyer for my L-1 Visa application?
L-1 Visa application process can be time consuming and complex, so it is advisable for applicants to seek advice from immigration lawyers with specialized knowledge in immigration law who can help make the process more efficient and simpler. Please get in touch if you would like to speak with a specialist from Global Citizen Solutions.
What is specialized knowledge in the context of an L-1 Visa?
A key requirement for an L-1B Visa is to have “specialized knowledge.”
The USCIS defines this as “either special knowledge possessed by an individual of the petitioning organization’s product, service, research, equipment, techniques, management, or other interests and its application in international markets, or an advanced level of knowledge or expertise in the organization’s processes and procedures.”
In practice, this could involve outlining what training the individual has been given as well as how many other employees in the company have received it to demonstrate that the individual’s level of knowledge is exceptional.