The L-1 visa carries many benefits with it that some of the other nonimmigrant work visas do not share. One of those benefits is the ability to enter the U.S. with the intention of starting a new office, branch, or affiliate if one does not already exist. If you are an employer or a potential applicant who is looking to open an L-1 visa new office in the U.S., then you’ve come to the right place.
L-1 Visa Background
The L-1 visa is a nonimmigrant visa that is designed to allow multinational companies to send their executives, managers, and highly specialized employees over to the U.S. to work in a branch, affiliate, or office of the overseas parent company.
The L-1 visa is widely considered a very advantageous visa class because of the minimal qualifications required to be eligible. For example, where other visas require international acclaim, advanced education, or a significant amount of invested funds in order to qualify, the L-1 visa only requires that you hold one of the three eligible positions in a multinational company.
Under this visa, managers and executives can stay in the U.S. for up to three years initially with the opportunity to extend their L-1 visa to a maximum of seven years. Specialized employees can also stay for up to three years but then are limited to an extension for up to only five years.
However, it also allows an employee to enter the U.S. to work on starting an L-1 visa new office, branch, or affiliate where none exists. This is what sets the L-1 visa apart from other visas such as the J1 or O1 visa classes. It is important to note that, while the L-1 visa is initially granted for three years under normal circumstances, it will only be granted for one initial year if you are opening an L-1 visa new office.
Opening an L-1 Visa New Office
The circumstances surrounding your ability as a beneficiary to open an L-1 visa new office depend on which subcategory of the L-1 visa you hold or plan to apply for. The two subcategories are:
- L-1A visa for executives and manager
- L-1B visa for employees with specialized knowledge
Requirements for Managers and Executives
For the L-1A visa, there are specific requirements that must be met if your goal is to open an L-1 visa new office:
- You must be able to present evidence that you or your employer has rented or purchased a building, bay, or office space with enough room to house the proposed operations.
- In the three years leading up to your L-1 visa application, you must have been employed with the company for at least one continuous year as an operating manager or executive.
- You must prove that the L-1 visa new office will achieve the “doing business” standard withing one year of having your L-1 petition approved. It must also be able to support your role as an executive or manager. This can be proved by providing the organization of the parent company as well as the proposed structure of the L-1 new office.
“Doing business” means that your branch or office is regularly providing goods and/or services in a way that is systematic. This term cannot be used for an office in which an employee is simply present. Business must be conducted in order to qualify.
As a manager, you must be able to hire, fire, and control the daily tasks of employees in the new office. As an executive, you must be able to make large decisions about the direction and operations of the company without significant supervision.
Requirements for Employees with Specialized Knowledge
L-1B visa applicants usually need to have an L-1A manager or executive with them in order to be able to help open the L-1 visa new office. In fact, it is often the case that L-1B holders enter the U.S. at a later time to work in the L-1 visa new office. L-1B applicants should:
- Provide evidence that the physical premises have been rented or purchased
- Prove that the new office will be a “qualifying organization”. This means that your new company is either a branch, affiliate, subsidiary, or even a parent of the foreign company.
- Show evidence that the foreign employer is able to pay the specialized employee the appropriate wages.
For both the L-1A and the L-1B subcategories, there is a variety of documents that could be used as evidence. In order to be sure that you are submitting the best possible evidence, it is a good idea to retain the services of a qualified immigration attorney before filing with the USCIS.
What are the Steps?
- The first step to opening an L-1 visa new office in the U.S. is to rent or purchase premises for your business. Even though many businesses are conducted exclusively online these days, the USCIS still requires that you maintain a physical location in the U.S. in order to qualify. Therefore, it’s usually a good idea to have sufficient space rented out for a minimum of six months.
- You should also have a robust L-1 visa business plan for your new office. While this is not an official requirement, it is almost always necessary to secure approval from the USCIS. Make sure that your plan details the proposed structure of your new branch and how it is projected to grow over the next few years.
- Your new office must be formed into a taxable entity. Many employers choose to have the entity become a corporation or a limited liability company. To do this you will need to file information articles with the Department of State in the particular state that your branch will be located.
- Because the L-1 visa is only granted for one initial year for those who are opening new offices, you will need to hire more workers within the first several months in order to be able to apply for an extension.
Pro tip: The purpose of every nonimmigrant visa is to stimulate the local economy and to provide more jobs for U.S. workers. Because of this, the USCIS usually wants to see that you have added U.S. citizens to your workforce. While it may be tempting to send more foreign employees from the parent company under L-1 status, this strategy may hurt your chances of receiving an extension.