Foreign companies often send employees to the U.S. temporarily to work in one of their international branches.
Sometimes, they even want that employee to set up a new company office in the U.S. For this purpose, the United States issues L-1A and L-1B Intracompany Transferee Visas.
When a company applies for an L-1A or L-1B visa, they are only asking for a temporary stay for their employee until their business is complete.
Like other non-immigrant visas, these two L visas expire once the specific conditions of your visit are complete.
There are a few basic questions we should get out of the way before we dive into the specifics of each type of visa.
What’s the Difference?
L-1A and L-1B temporary visas have many similar requirements, however, the major difference lies in who’s applying:
- L-1A visas are for executives or managers of a company.
- L-1B visas are for employees with specialized knowledge that is valuable to the company.
Basically, if you are brought in to manage something, you’d fall under the L-1A. If you’re brought in to do some other specific, specialized job, then you’d apply for an L-1B.
Who can Apply for an L-1A and L-1B Visa?
Both U.S. based companies and foreign companies can apply for an L-1A and L-1B Visa. Generally, the employers will file an I-129 form on behalf of the employee.
The two most common situations where a company would file for one of these visas are when a company:
- Transfers an executive or an employee with special knowledge or skills from a foreign office to an established U.S. based office.
- Sends an executive or an employee with special knowledge or skills to the U.S. to establish a new U.S. based office.
L-1A Intracompany Transferee Visas
The L-1A visa is specifically reserved for immigrants who will act as a temporary manager or executive of a U.S. based branch of a company.
As stated above, both domestic and foreign companies may petition for this visa on behalf of their employee.
L-1A Visas for a U.S. Based Company
If a company is based in the U.S. and is bringing an executive into the U.S. to work in the branch, the company must:
- Have a direct business relationship with a foreign company.
- Do business in the U.S. and with at least one other foreign country. This business must last for the duration of the employee’s stay in the U.S.
L-1A Visas for a Foreign Company
If a company is based in a country outside the U.S. and wants to bring an executive to establish a new office, they must also:
- Already have the space to house the new office.
- Have a similar managerial position that will remain in that office within one year of the person coming to establish the new branch.
Likewise, the employee of either a U.S. or foreign based company must:
- Have been working for the business for one continuous year for one of the three years preceding them going to the U.S.
- Be going to the U.S. in a managerial or executive position.
L-1B Intracompany Transferee Visas
These visas enable a company to transfer an employee with specialized knowledge to the U.S.
Like the L-1A visa, this employee could be going on behalf of an established branch of a company that already does business in the U.S., or in place of a foreign-based company that is trying to establish a new office in the U.S.
The requirements for an L-1B visa are generally the same as the requirements for an L-1A visa. Basically, the employer must:
- Have a relationship with a foreign company.
- Be doing business (exchanging goods and services) in both the U.S. and at least one other foreign country.
The employee must also:
- Have worked for the business for one continuous year within the three preceding years before going to the United States.
- Be going to the U.S. with the purpose of using their special knowledge to benefit the U.S. branch of the same company.
Applying for an L-1 Visa
One odd quirk about the L-1 visa is that you aren’t actually the one who applies for it.
Generally speaking, your employer will file Form I-129 and all of the related paperwork with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) on your behalf.
In a similar manner, they’ll also receive any information about your approval, as well as any related notices requesting additional information.
First, your employer will receive a receipt that the application has been received. Then, they will be given a date for the applicant’s biometrics appointment.
At this appointment, officials will collect your fingerprints, take your picture, and get your electronic signature.
Finally, USCIS will send your employer the final decision about whether they’ll grant you an L-1 visa.
If a company is of a significant size, and files L-1 petitions for their employees on a regular basis, they have the option to apply for a blanket L-1 petition.
A blanket petition allows a company to file one overall petition for all their employees instead of having to submit an individual petition for each employee.
A blanket petition doesn’t mean that the U.S. approves all L-1 applicants automatically. However, it can make the process much quicker for those who qualify.
To be approved for a blanket petition, a company must
- Have an office in the United States that has been operating for a year or more.
- Consist of three or more branches – domestic or foreign. This includes subsidiaries.
- Have had at least ten L-1 applications approved during the last year.
- Have done at least $25 million in sales, including subsidiaries.
- Employ at least 1,000 people in the U.S.
If your employer has a blanket L-1 visa, they fill out a different form – the I-129S, Nonimmigrant Petition Based on Blanket L Petition.
They’ll then give this form to the employee along with the company’s blanket petition approval notice.
The employee will then take those documents, along with any other supporting evidence to the consular officer for approval.
Additional L-1 Visa Considerations
There are a few other things you should keep in mind when considering an L-1A or L-1B visa.
Length of Stay
The length of time an employee can stay in the U.S. on an L-1 visa depends on the reason they entered the country.
If an employee gets approval for an L-1A or L-1B visa to open a new office in the U.S., they can stay in the U.S. for one year.
If an employee gets approval to come to a U.S. office that is already established, their L-1 visa is good for three years.
After the initial approved stay is over, the employee can request an extension by filing another form I-129.
L-1 visa extensions are granted in increments of 2 years. For L-1A employees, the maximum total stay is 7 years. For L-1B employees, the maximum is 5 years.
Part Time Work
An employee seeing L-1 status must be employed with the company on a full-time basis. However, the employee doesn’t have to work full-time in the U.S.
- The employee can divide their time between their home country and the U.S.
- If the employee is mostly participating in meetings and conferences, or just receiving training while in the U.S., they should avoid applying for the L-1 visa. Instead, they should apply for a business visa.
The Applicant’s Family
If the applicant has either a spouse or children under 21 years old, their family can also apply for temporary non-immigrant status.
They would file under the L-2 visa as dependents.
If the employee applies to extend their stay, their spouse and dependents can also request an extension.
If the spouse wants to work while in the United States, they must first file an Application for Employment Authorization (form I-765).
The spouse can work part or full time, in any industry.
L-2 applicants can also attend school in the U.S. either part-time or full-time.
L-1 visas began because large, international companies needed a way for their employees to work in the U.S. temporarily.
Today, however, L-1A and L-1B visas are used by smaller and even start-up companies to start new offices in the U.S. or to allow their employees to work temporarily in the U.S. based office.
L-1A visas are for employees who work as a manager or executive in a company.
L-1B visas are given to workers who have specialized knowledge or skill that is useful to a company.
If you or your business plans to pursue an L-1 intracompany visa, you should contact an experienced immigration attorney.
An attorney can help make sure you understand the qualifications of an L-1 visa, as well as advise you about what steps to take.