L-1 Visa Category
L-1 Visas allow companies to transfer nonimmigrant employees to the United States in order to assist with management, opening new offices, or providing specialized services.
The L-1A classification enables the transfer of an executive or manager from an affiliated foreign office to one located here in the United States. It also allows a foreign company, who does not yet have an affiliated U.S. office, to send an employee to establish one.
The L-1B classification enables the transfer of a professional employee with specialized knowledge relating to the interests of the organization, from an affiliated foreign office to one located here in the United States. Like the L-1A classification, it also allows the formation of an office in the United States when certain conditions are met.
For each of these classifications, the employer must file a Form I-129, Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker, with the required fee, on behalf of the employee.
The following information describes some of the features and requirements of the L-1 nonimmigrant visa program categories.
Qualifications for L-1A (Intracompany Transferee Executive or Manager) and L-1B (Intracompany Transferee Specialized Knowledge) Visa Categories
To qualify for an L-1 nonimmigrant visa program in either of these categories, the following conditions must be met by the employer:
- The employer must currently be or will be performing business in at least one other country directly or through a qualifying organization, as well as in the United States, during the beneficiary’s stay as an L-1 in the United States. It is not required that the business be engaged in international trading, although the business is required to be viable. It is worth noting that “performing business” does not simply mean the presence of an agent or office abroad, but rather the continuous provision of goods or services by the organization.
- The employer must have a qualifying relationship with a foreign company, such as a branch, affiliate, parent company, or subsidiary.
To qualify for an L-1 nonimmigrant visa program in either of these categories, the following conditions must be met by the employee:
- Within the three years immediately prior to his or her admission to the U.S., the employee must have been working for a qualifying employer (as mentioned above) for at least one year, continuously.
- For L-1A, the employee’s goal must be to enter the U.S. in order to provide service in a managerial or executive capacity of the employer. This means the employee must have the ability to make a wide range of decisions with little to no oversight within the company (executive), or have the ability to supervise the work of others while managing the organization, or a department, subdivision or function within it (managerial). Managerial capacity may also refer to the ability of the employee to manage an essential function of the company without supervision. For complete definitions of these terms, see section 101(a)(44) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, as amended, and 8 CFR 214.2(l)(1)(ii).
- For L-1B, the employee’s goal must be to enter the U.S. in order to provide services in a specialized knowledge capacity to a branch of the same employer or one of its qualifying organizations. This means the employee must hold a level of expertise in the processes of the organization, or have special knowledge of the organization’s products, services, management or research and its application in international markets. For more details on “specialized knowledge,” see 8 CFR 214.2(l)(1)(ii)(D)).
Establishing New Offices
A foreign employer may seek to send an employee to the United States in order to establish a new office, using his or her executive or managerial capacity. In this case, the employer must demonstrate the following:
- The new office location has been sufficiently and physically secured.
- Within one year of petition approval, the new office must support an executive or managerial position.
- Within the three years immediately prior to his or her filing of the petition, the employee must have been working for the employer for at least one year, continuously, in an executive or managerial capacity.
For further details, see 8 CFR 214.2(l)(3)(v).
In cases when an employee is sent with specialized knowledge, an employer must also show that the employer has the financial ability to compensate the employee and begin a viable business. For more details, see 8 CFR 214.2(l)(3)(vi).
Length of Stay
Upon approval, employees entering the United States to establish new offices will be allowed a maximum initial stay of one calendar year. Other qualifying employees will be allowed a maximum initial stay of three years. All L-1A employees can request extensions in up to two year increments, for a total maximum of seven calendar years.
Family Members – Length of Stay, Employment Authorizations and Other Important Information
A qualifying employee may be accompanied by a spouse and any unmarried children who are under the age of 21. Generally, these family members seek an L-2 nonimmigrant classification. If approved, their length of stay is usually the same length of time as the qualifying employee.
Should the spouse of a qualifying employee choose to work, an application for work authorization may be submitted using Form I-765, and the required fee. The L-2 spouse, if approved, has no restrictions on where he or she may be employed.
If an employee’s family is already residing in the United States, but seeks a change in status or an extension of stay in the classification of L-2, the family members may collectively apply using Form I-539, along with the required fee.
Some organizations may meet the requirements for an intracompany relationship before filing individual L-1 petitions, and may instead file a blanket petition. Eligibility for a blanket “L certification” may be established if the following conditions are met:
- The petitioner’s office in the U.S. has been doing business for at least one full year.
- The petitioner has at least three domestic and foreign branches, affiliates and subsidiaries.
- The petitioner and each of the qualifying organizations are engaged in commercial trade or services.
- And the petitioner, along with the other qualifying organizations, meet at least one of the following:
- Have a workforce in the United States of at least 1000 employees
- Have obtained a minimum of 10 L-1 approvals during the previous 12 months
- Or Have U.S. subsidiaries or affiliates whose combined sales total at least $25 million.
While an approval of a blanket L petition is not a guarantee that an employee will be granted L-1A classification, it does provide flexibility to the employer regarding the quick transfer of eligible employees to the United States, without requiring an individual petition. In order to qualify under the blanket petitioning process, the employee having specialized knowledge must also be a professional. For more information regarding this, see 8 CFR 214.2(l)(1)(ii)(E).
In most cases, once a blanket petition is approved, the employer only needs to complete Form I-129S. This should then be sent to the employee with a copy of the blanket petition Approval Notice, and any other evidence required. The employee can then present it to the consular officer in connection with an application for an L-1 visa.
If the prospective employee is visa-exempt, the employer may file Form I-129S along with supporting documentation with the USCIS Service Center that approved the blanket petition.
For more information regarding blanket petitions, see CFR 214.2(l)(4) and 8 CFR 214.2(l)(5).
Notes for Canadians
Canadian citizens are exempt from the L-1 Visa requirement. They may present Form I-129S, completed and with supporting documentation, to U.S. Customs and Border Protection. This can be done at certain ports-of-entry on the land border, or at a U.S. pre-clearance/pre-inspection station in Canada, in connection with an application for admission to the U.S. with L-1 classification. For more information, please visit www.CBP.gov.
The L-1 Visa Reform Act of 2004
The L-1 Visa Reform Act of 2004 is applicable to all petitions filed on or after June 6, 2005. In particular, it is directed to those filed on behalf of L-1B employees, who will primarily be stationed at the worksite of an employer other than the petitioning employer or its affiliates, parent companies or subsidiaries. For the employee to qualify in this situation, the employer must show the following:
- The employee’s work is not considered to be labor for hire by such an unaffiliated employer and
- The employee will not be controlled or supervised by an unaffiliated employer.
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