An L-1 visa permits non-immigrants to reside and work in the U.S. under the L-1 status. This visa is valid for a relatively small amount of time, ranging from one to five years. The duration allowed will depend on the nationality of the applicant and the reciprocity schedule that exists with their home country. With extensions, you can stay in the U.S. for up to 7 years. Here are the details on everything you need to know about L-1 visas.
L-1 visas are issued to the staff of international companies with offices in both the U.S. and abroad. These visas allow such workers to relocate to offices of their corporations in the U.S. if they have worked for their companies abroad for at least 1 consecutive year within the previous 3 years.
The United States and non-U.S. employers should have a relationship in one of the following ways to be eligible for this visa type:
- Branch and headquarters
- Parent and subsidiary
- Sister companies owned by the mutual parent
- “Affiliates” owned by one person or persons in approximately a similar percentage
L-1 visa holders’ spouses are allowed to use the L-2 visa and work without restriction in the U.S. Under the doctrine of dual intent, the L-1 visa can then be used as a stepping-stone to obtain a green card.
L-1 Visa Subcategories
There are 2 subcategories of the L-1 Visa
- L-1A visas for managers & executives – This visa is valid for up to seven years.
- L-1B visa for workers with specialized skills/knowledge – This visa type has a validity period of up to five years.
Once the five or seven-year validity period has expired, the visa holder can only qualify for the L-1 status again after working abroad for the parent, affiliate, branch office, or subsidiary of the U.S. company for a minimum of 1 year.
L-1 Visa FAQ
Here are some of the more frequently asked questions regarding with the L-1 visa’s application process, benefits, extensions, and requirements.
What privileges do I have with an L-1 visa? What are the benefits of L-1 visas?
An L-1 visa allows you to:
- Stay in the U.S. and legally work there for an organization that is a subsidiary, parent, affiliate, or branch of the company which formerly employed you abroad.
- Move outside and within the United States.
- Obtain visas for your family – this is for your spouse and children under the age of 21. Your spouse can work in the U.S., and children can still study in U.S. public and private schools. However, your children cannot engage in paid employment in the U.S.
- Make a permanent residency application (green card) without jeopardizing the status of your L-1 visa.
- Unlike the H-1B visa that requires you to possess a bachelor’s degree, the L-1 visa has no education requirement.
- The L-1A allows managers and executives to travel to the U.S. to start a new branch or office where none exists. However, the initial validity period is only 1 year for this route, though extensions are available.
- There is less pressure to create employment under the L-1A visa when compared to the EB-5 that requires the creation of at least 10 jobs.
- You are given a chance to choose the premium processing timeframe in order to get your visa processed in as little as two weeks.
- When applying for permanent residence (a permanent green card), L-1A holders who are applying for an EB-1C can skip the labor certification process which is normally highly procedural and technical.
What type of Company should I work for in order for my L-1 visa application to be successful?
As long as there exists an international relationship between the U.S. company and the one abroad, then any company is eligible to apply for L-1 visas.
How long does processing an L-1 visa take?
Under regular circumstances, the L-1 processing time ranges between two to five months. However, you can request premium processing to have your visa processed in as little as two weeks.
What is L-1 visa premium processing, and how much more does it cost than normal applications?
L-1 premium processing is a service offered by USCIS officials to enable applicants to enjoy faster visa processing. Processing an L-1 visa under premium processing takes at most 15 days, and the applicant is required to pay a fee of $1,440. The fee for the normal L-1 visa application is $460.
Can I change jobs under an L-1 visa?
As long as you continue working for one of your company’s branches or its affiliated companies, then you can transfer jobs. However, you should notify the USCIS or the attorney carrying out your paperwork before making a switch.
To work for a different company, you will need to apply for a separate visa. You also cannot work part-time for a different company while on the L-1 visa.
What visa status is given to the dependents of a holder of an L-1 visa?
Dependents of an L-1 holder include a spouse and children under the age of 21. These dependents are given an L-2 visa. L-2 visas have limits similar to those of the L-1 visa.
Is there a limit on L-1 visas available per year?
There is no quota limit on L-1 visas. An L-1 visa holder can also change to an H-1B visa, though that will likely be subject to the H-1B’s annual limit.
Can a business owner get to the U.S. using an L-1 visa?
Investors can gain entry to the United States and, with time, acquire permanent residence using the EB1C green card category. If you are a business owner, you will need to meet the requirements of an L-1 to get an L-1A manager or executive visa.
Will an L-1 visa get me a green card/permanent residence?
Not directly. However, if a business has been running for over one year, the executive or manager can petition for a green card/permanent residence without having to make an application for labor certification. Such applicants should meet similar qualifications as those under the EB-1C green card category.
However, there is a catch. The EB-1C requires you to work for one year in the company’s foreign branch in the three years leading up to your green card petition. If you have spent the last three years in the U.S. under the L-1A, you would not qualify. However, if you have been working in the foreign branch for at least a year and you transfer directly to the U.S. branch under the L-1A, you will be eligible to apply for the EB-1C for the next two years afterwards.
Can an alien come to the United States on a visitor visa while the L-1 visa petition is being processed?
Yes. However, such an employee cannot handle any paid tasks unless he or she has a visa such as the B-1 in lieu of an L-1.
What documentation should I show to have an L-1A visa to open my office/branch in the United States?
- Show proof of a physical space large enough to house the new office. Alternatively, you can show a lease for your office space.
- Proof that the beneficiary has been an executive employee in the company for a consecutive year in the last 3 years. In this case, a copy of foreign tax returns may be required.
- A business plan proving that within one year of operations in the U.S., the business will support a managerial or executive position.
- A business plan showing the size of investment in the United States.
- The foreign company’s copies of bank statements to prove that the size of the foreign entity is capable of commencing business in the U.S. and remunerating the beneficiary.
- A chart showing the foreign company’s organizational structure.
How much capital is required by the law for a new subsidiary in the U.S?
There’s no fixed recommended or set amount of capital required by the law. What’s normal for your industry can work in starting a U.S. subsidiary.
How is the ownership relationship proven by the petitioner (the U.S. company)?
The register of shareholders is the most reliable way of proving ownership because it indicates all outstanding shares. The record of shareholders should be in the corporate minute book. An updated register of shareholders needs to be provided for all companies in an ownership chain.
What happens if I am fired by my employer while I am on an L-1 visa?
There is no grace period for such a situation. Once you are laid off by your employer, you immediately lose your L-1 status. You will need to find a job quickly from any other employer who can sponsor an H-1B visa. The transfer of L-1 to H-1B is subject to an annual cap, however, so your employer could be unable to file a petition. In such a case, you’ll need to head back to your home country right away.
To extend your stay, you can also change to another immigration status such as the B-1 or B-2 visa categories.
How Our Immigration Attorneys Can Help
The L-1 visa is a useful yet tricky visa to apply for and work under. With the help of the right immigration attorney, you may be able to remain in the United States by applying for a different visa, finding a new sponsoring employer, or transferring your status.
At Immi-USA, our attorneys will handle your case with complete privacy and confidentiality. We’ve helped many clients deal with revoked visas, visa extensions, and related applications. To get in touch with one of our expert attorneys, simply complete the contact form here so that we can schedule a consultation for you.