With today’s expanding global economy, many international companies have overseas sites and locations. If your business has an office in the U.S. that needs employees or managers from your main location, an L1 visa may be the best path for you.
What are the L1 Visa Requirements?
The provisions and requirements of the nonimmigrant L1 visa are dependent on what role the employee fills in your company. The L1A visa is designed for executives and managers while the L1B is meant for employees with specialized knowledge.
To qualify for each visa type you, the employer, must:
- Have a relationship with the foreign company as a parent company, affiliate, branch, or subsidiary.
- Do business in the United States for the entire time that the manager or employee will be in the country under the L1A or L1B visa.
The USCIS defines “doing business” as the systematic exchange of goods and/or services. This means that you cannot simply have an agent or office present in the U.S. to qualify for this visa. You must be actively doing business in the country to file a petition.
The requirements for the employee include:
- Having worked with your company for at least one year within the last three years before entering the U.S.
- For L1A applicants: Be looking to work as a manager or executive in the U.S. branch, subsidiary, or affiliate of your company.
- For L1B applicants: Aim to work as an employee with specialized knowledge for that same branch, subsidiary, or affiliate.
Working as an executive involves the ability for the employee to make large decisions for the company without substantial supervision. Being a manager includes the supervision of other employees of a specific department or function of the company.
In order to have specialized knowledge, the employee must demonstrate an acute understanding of your company’s product, systems, or processes.
Establishing New Offices
The L1A visa also allows you to send a manager, executive or employee with specialized knowledge to the U.S. with the purpose of establishing a new affiliated office. This is provided that you are able to prove that you have a physical location
for the office, are able to support this position, and the employee has been working with the company overseas for at least one year in the last three years.
The L1 Process
As the employer, you will be responsible for a large part of the application process.
- You will need to file an I-129 Petition for Nonimmigrant Worker on your employee’s behalf. This should be done within 6 months of the employee’s start date.
- Along with the I-129, you must include evidence that your company and its U.S. affiliate(s) are legitimate. Evidence that your employee fulfills the requirements for the visa will also be required.
- The fee for the I-129 should also be included with the petition.
- If the USCIS approves your petition, they will send you an I-797 Notice of Action. Send a copy of this form to the U.S. consulate or embassy in your country to have the visa issuance approved.
The employee will be responsible for doing the following:
- Completing the DS-160 and submitting it to the U.S. Department of State.
- Submitting a valid passport that has a validation period extending at least 6 months past the employee’s intended period of stay.
- Bringing two profile photographs that meet the passport photo requirements.
Once the application is approved and the visa has been issued, L1 visa holders will be able to stay in the U.S. for up to three years. However, if the employee is being sent to establish a new office, they will be granted an initial stay of only one year.
You may be able to choose between an individual petition for a single employee or a blanket petition for several employees.
In order to qualify for a blanket petition, you must meet the following requirements:
- Your company needs to be doing commercial services or trade. This rule disqualifies non-profit organizations.
- You must have a U.S. affiliate office that has been operating for at least one year. This means that if you are seeking to establish a new office, you cannot file a blanket petition.
- Your company must have at least three branches either foreign or domestic.
- You must fulfill at least one of the following qualifications:
- You have had at least 10 L1 visas approved in the last year.
- Your subsidiaries or affiliates in the U.S. contribute a combined amount of 25 million USD in sales each year.
- Your company employs at least 1,000 employees in the U.S.
This final requirement disqualifies small companies and startup businesses. The blanket petition is reserved for large companies that regularly transfer employees in and out of multiple international locations.
To file a blanket petition, include evidence of your qualification with your I-129 petition. Consult your immigration attorney to learn what kinds of evidence will be considered.
How Much Will the Fee Cost?
- Filing the I-129 form has a basic fee of $325.
- In order to prevent fraudulent petitions, the USCIS has added an extra $500 anti-fraud fee.
- As of 2015, if you have 50 or more employees in the U.S. and half of them are under L1 status, you will be charged an additional 4,500 USD.
If time is a concern, the L1 visa also allows for premium processing at an additional cost of 1,225 USD.
Can I Apply For an Extension?
Initially, all L1 visas are granted for an initial stay of three years unless the employee is establishing a new office. L1A visa holders can apply for extensions in two-year increments until the maximum limit of seven years is reached.
L1A visa holders can apply for extensions in two-year increments until the maximum limit of seven years is reached. L1B holders, however, can only receive two-year extensions for a maximum limit of five years.
If an employee is establishing a new office, they will also be able to extend their stay until the maximum limit according to their visa is reached. There is no possibility of staying beyond the maximum limit under this visa.
Advantages and Restrictions to the L1 Visa
Fortunately, there are few restrictions that limit the L1 visa. It is considered dual intent, meaning that the employee can stay in the U.S. under this visa while seeking lawful permanent resident status.
Also, unlike some other nonimmigrant visas, you can pay the extra fee for premium processing. This will shorten the processing time to 15 days rather than the months that it usually takes.
The employee is not required to have a degree and there is no limit to the number of petitions that can be approved each year, meaning that there is no annual cap.
The only restriction to the L1 visa is that the petition can only be filed by the U.S. affiliate or branch of your company. Your company must have a foreign presence in order to be qualified to petition. This can be compared to the H1B visa for which any U.S. employer can petition.
How Our Immigration Lawyers Can Help
Understanding which visa option is the most appropriate for your employees requires a substantial amount of time and knowledge of immigration law. At SGM Law Group, our attorneys have a long history of helping people obtain visas work in the U.S.
Contact us to see if you meet the requirements for a free consultation with one of our expert lawyers.