The L1 Visa, also called an “intra-company transferee” visa, allows international companies to easily transfer managerial employees or individuals with specialized knowledge from their foreign offices to their U.S. offices. An L1 Visa can also help foreign companies establish new offices in the U.S. Under an L1 Visa, employees can be transferred into the U.S. to work within the company currently employing them or in a related business.
United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) requires employees filing for an L1 Visa to have been employed by their company for at least one full year during the three years prior to filing in order to be eligible to apply.
The L1 Visa has two categories: L-1A Visas are for employees coming to the U.S. to perform a managerial job, while L-1B Visas are for employees coming to the U.S. because they have specialized knowledge about the company or its products or processes.
Petitioners who have been approved for an L1 Visa will be sent an approval notice on Form I-797B. This form should be retained by the employee along with a copy of the L1 Visa application and its supporting documents for their records.
L-1A Visas are for employees who come to the United States to work in a managerial capacity overseeing people or processes. These employees do not need to be currently employed as managers, but their job in the U.S. must be in a managerial capacity.
To qualify for an L-1A Visa to manage people, the manager must supervise professional-level employees who have at least a bachelor’s degree or the equivalent level of education in a field related to their job.
L-1B Visas are granted to “specialized knowledge” employees that have knowledge about a particular product or process that cannot be learned in a reasonable amount of time. For example, an employee who has a long association with the company’s product line and who possesses historical knowledge necessary for developing next-generation products would be eligible for an L-1B Visa.
The L-1B Visa does not have specific criteria similar to the L-1A Visa. Specialized knowledge is defined generally under the law, which can make it a tricky area depending on how USCIS decides to apply it to the immigration process.
Employers should be aware of the number of H-1B visas available when submitting an L-1B application. USCIS may demand a more detailed description of the specialized knowledge possessed by the employee to be sure that companies are not trying to use L-1B visas as a way of getting around the limited number of H-1B visas issued.
Once approved, an individual’s L1 Visa status is valid for a three-year period. The L1 Visa can be renewed for two years at a time, up to a maximum of seven years for L-1A visa holders. L-1B Visa holders can renew their visas for a maximum of five years.
Once L1 Visa holders have finished their full five or seven years in the U.S., they have reached the maximum time allowed under their status. Unless the L-1 visa holder is granted U.S. permanent resident status (a “Green Card”) before their time limit has been reached, he or she will need to leave the U.S. for one full year before eligible to receive another L1 Visa.
The L1 Visa category is a dual-intent visa, which allows visa holders to apply simultaneously for a Green Card application while working in L-1 status.
L-2 Status for Spouses or Children
The spouse and unmarried children of the L1 Visa holder are eligible for L-2 status. The L-2 status allows dependents to study in the U.S., and L-2 spouses can apply for separate work authorization.