An L-1 visa is an employment-based visa that allows organizations to transfer their professional employees from any of their overseas branches to those in the United States. A qualified employee will be eligible to live and work in the U.S. under that nonimmigrant status by filling out and filing an L-1 visa application.
The visa category also allows employees to change from nonimmigrant status to immigrant status and become lawful permanent residents after spending a certain number of years in the U.S. The program is broken down into two sub-categories, the L-1A Intracompany Transferee Executive or Manager Visa and the L-1B Intracompany Transferee Specialized Knowledge Employee Visa.
L-1 Visa Qualification
To be qualified for the L-1 visa category, you must:
- Have been an employee of the same organization in one of its offices abroad for a minimum of one continuous year within the three years immediately preceding your L-1 visa application.
- Be coming over to the United States to continue working in a managerial or executive capacity, or as an employee with specialized knowledge for one of the branches of the same organization.
The L-1A classification allows an organization to transfer a qualified employee with a managerial or executive role from one of its affiliated foreign branches to the United States. The employee may come to the U.S. to either continue working for an existing location or to establish a new office in the United States.
Understanding USCIS Definition of Executive or Manager for L-1A Intracompany Transferee
It is very crucial to have a comprehensive understanding of the USCIS definition of executive and managerial capacity before applying for L-1A visa. According to the U.S. immigration law:
Executive capacity means you have the authority to make large decisions within the organization without much supervision from a higher authority. In other words, you are in a position to direct the affairs of the company or a component within the company.
Managerial capacity means your position within the company affords you the ability to manage the organization by supervising and controlling the works of other professional employees in the organization, or a department, subdivision, function, or component of the company.
The L-1B visa enables an organization to transfer a qualified employee with “specialized knowledge” from one of its offices abroad to the United States to either join an already existing business or establish a new one.
Understanding USCIS Definition of Specialized for L-1B Intracompany Transferee
To be qualified as an L-1B employee, you must possess special knowledge of the organization’s service, product, research, equipment, techniques, or management skill that aren’t common in your industry. You may also qualify if you have advanced expertise or knowledge of the processes and operations of the company.
L-1 Visa Process
Your L-1 visa process must be done in the following order:
I-129, Petition for Nonimmigrant Worker
Just like every employment-based visa category, your L-1 visa application process must be sponsored by your employer. Your employer will file an I-129 on your behalf. The application must be filed at least 45 days before your start date and not more than 6 months before your employment begins.
I-129 Supporting Evidence:
The following documents must be with the completed I-129:
- Evidence that you have maintained lawful status if you are already in the U.S.
- Evidence that you have been with the organization and have occupied an executive or managerial role for at least one year in one of its foreign offices.
- Full details about your proposed job duties and qualifications
- Evidence that you are going to occupy an executive or a managerial position in your proposed job.
- An I-907 form if you are using premium processing
- Your employer must also demonstrate the ability to pay your wages.
If the I-129 petition is approved, USCIS will send an I-797 Notice of Action to your employer. You will use the form as part of the documents to apply for a visa abroad.
DS-160 Visa Application
After your I-129 has been approved, if you are outside the U.S., you will then proceed to apply for a visa using the DS-160, which will be filed and submitted electronically to the DOS website. The information you provided on the form and your interview answers will be used by consular officers to process your visa application to decide if you are eligible for an L-1 nonimmigrant visa.
- After completing your DS-160, you must print and keep the application form confirmation page, which you will later bring along to your interview. You will also need to schedule a visa interview appointment.
- Also, you will need to upload your photo as part of the DS-160 filing requirements. It is very important that the dimensions, color, format, and size of the photograph meet these Department of States photo requirements. You will also need a valid passport that will be valid for at least six months after your interview date.
- You must appear for an interview at the U.S. consulate or embassy in your home country for your visa interview. The process varies widely among different consulates and embassies, so you will need to check with the consulate in your country for more information. An ink-free digital fingerprint scan will also be conducted as part of your application process.
L-1 Visa Period of Stay
If you are entering the United States to establish a new office for your organization, you will be given a maximum of one-year initial stay. If your company already has an office in the U.S. and you are coming to join an already-existing U.S. branch, you will be given a maximum initial stay of three years. Whether the initial stay is one year or three years, you may request an extension when the validity period of your initial visa is expiring.
L-1 Visa Extension
If you are an L-1A employee, you may request for additional two years upon the expiration of your first visa until you have reached the maximum limit of seven years. However, for L-1B employees, you may also request an additional two years until you have reached the maximum limit of five years.
L-1 Visa Dependents
As an L-1 employee, your immediate family members, (i.e. spouse and unmarried children under 21 years of age) may accompany or follow you to the United States. Your family will need to apply using the L-2 nonimmigrant classification. If their application is approved, they will be given the same period of stay as explained above.
If your family members are already in the U.S. and would like to change to L-2 nonimmigrant status, they will only need to file an I-539 collectively.
How Can I Transfer From L1 Status to Permanent Resident Status?
While many nonimmigrant visas require that applicants prove ties to their home country and present evidence that they are willing to return home after the completion of their program in the U.S., the L-1 visa allows for dual intent, which means that you may choose to return home after your visa expiration or decide to change from nonimmigrant to immigrant by becoming a permanent U.S. resident. To enjoy this L-1 visa benefit, you will need to apply for a green card.
If you are an L-1A employee, the easiest route for your green card application is to file an EB-1C petition. The requirements are quite similar to your current L-1A status. Transferring from an L-1A to an EB-1C is faster than most other nonimmigrant to immigrant process because your application does not require PERM Labor Certification, which may take an extra 8 months to process. However, keep in mind that the EB-1C requires that you must have worked as a manager or executive for your company’s overseas location for one continuous year in the three years leading up to your green card application.
If you are in the L-1B subcategory, you may apply for EB-2 or EB-3 green card category. However, you will be required to get a PERM Labor Certification as part of your application process.
For any of the two subcategories, you will need to file an I-485 to adjust your status from nonimmigrant to permanent resident and also attend both a biometric screening and an adjustment of status interview at USCIS office. If your petition is approved, you will become a lawful U.S. permanent resident.
L-1 Processing Fees
Processing fees may be different depending on your location. However, the following are some of the expenses you should expect to pay:
- $460 for the I-129 USCIS filing fee
- $500 for fraud prevention and detection fee
- $190 for the DS-160
- Premium processing fee of $1,440 (optional)
- Immigration attorney fee (optional)
L-1 Visa Application Processing Time
In recent years, there has been an increase in nonimmigrant visa processing times by the USCIS due to different reforms in the agency. Typically, the I-129 takes up to six months to process. It might be longer than this depending on the caseload at the immigration or consular office handling your application.
Another factor that might extend the timeline of your L-1 visa application is if there are errors or omissions in the application you filed. You may receive an RFE from the USCIS after submitting your petition. If you fail to provide all initial evidence as requested, you are most likely going to experience a more extended delay or even a denial. This is why it is very important to present all the necessary documents from the onset.
L-1 Premium Processing
If you cannot wait six months you may expedite your L-1 visa application process by using a service called premium processing. To do this, you will file an I-907, Request for Premium Service. The request, if approved, will guarantee the completion of your application within 15 calendar days. The cost for the I-907 filing fee is $1,440.
How Our Immigration Attorneys Can Help
There’s a lot of that is involved with the L-1 visa application. This requires both the petitioning employer and the beneficiary employee to be very cautious when filing the forms and documents. An error either by omission or commission could lead to rejection, delay, or even denial of your petition. To avoid this, you will need an expert immigration attorney to help you file your application and help you have a successful interview.
At Immi-USA, we have a dedicated and experienced team of immigration attorneys who have helped many clients file and acquire their L-1 visa applications. We will ensure your visa is granted without delay and help you make the most of your time in the U.S. You can book an appointment with one of our immigration attorneys today by filling out this free contact form.