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June 9th 2023

How to transition from an L-1 Visa to a Green Card

This guide discusses everything you need to know to smoothly navigate the transition from from a L-1 to green card

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If you’re currently living and working in the United States on an L-1 nonimmigrant visa but are looking to settle on a more permanent basis, you will need to apply for an adjustment of status from nonimmigrant to immigrant (Green Card holder). The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) will evaluate your application and, if successful, will issue the permanent resident card to your mailing address. 

Let’s discuss details about the L-1 visa and the transition process to a green card, so you have everything to smoothly navigate the transition.

L-1 Visa Summary 

The L-1 Intra-Company Transferee visa is a non-immigrant work visa issued by the USCIS to qualifying foreign employees of multinational companies, allowing them to be temporarily transferred to a parent, subsidiary, affiliate, or branch, of the same company in the U.S.

There are two main categories under the L-1 visa: 

  • the L-1A visa, which is only available to workers operating in a managerial or executive role within the organization

  • the L-1B visa, which is available to employees with specialized knowledge about the products, procedures, or management of the company. 

The L-1 visa can also be used where a multinational company is looking to open a new office or branch in the U.S.

This visa is not specifically issued for one type of company or for organizations in specific countries. All multinational companies—from huge corporations and medium-sized businesses to small start-ups—are eligible to transfer their employees to the U.S. as long as they meet the requirements. 

L-1 Visa General Requirements

  • There must exist a qualifying relationship between the international company sending the foreign employee and the U.S company where said employee will work for the duration of the L-1 visa. Examples of qualifying relationships that satisfy this requirement include a parent/subsidiary relationship, a branch office, or an affiliate relationship.

  • The foreign company must currently be doing business, or have practical plans to do so, as an employer in the U.S. and in at least one other country throughout the L-1 beneficiary’s stay in the United States. For the purpose of the L-1 visa, “doing business” refers to the regular, systematic, and continuous provision of goods and/or services by a qualifying organization.

  • The L-1 visa beneficiary must have worked full-time for the foreign company for a minimum of one continuous year, within the last three years prior to their entry into the United States.  

  • For the L1A visa,  the employee must have worked for the foreign employer as either a manager or an executive and must be seeking to enter the U.S. to provide service in the same capacity. Per the USCIS, executive capacity refers to the employee’s ability to make executive decisions regarding the running of the company. Managerial capacity, on the other hand, is the ability to supervise and control the work of professional employees within the company and/or oversee a key component of the organization without direct supervision of others. 

  • For the L1B visa, the employee must have worked for the foreign company as a specialized knowledge worker and must be seeking to enter the United States to provide services in the same capacity. Specialized knowledge refers to an individual’s unique and in-depth knowledge of the organization’s key business functions and its application in international markets. 

L-1 Visa Duration 

Whether you are an L-1 visa holder looking to transition to permanent resident status or you are yet to obtain a visa but are looking for an easier path to the coveted green card, it is important to understand its maximum allowed duration of stay so you can plan accordingly. For the L-1A visa, the maximum duration allowed is seven years, while the L-1B visa is pegged at a max of five years. Both visas are issued for an initial three years with the possibility of two-year extensions until the maximum limit. 

Once this limit is reached and you want to continue living and working in the U.S., you can either file for a change of status to switch to another nonimmigrant visa like the H1B visa, or file to adjust status to permanent resident through the Green Card program. 

The L-1 is a Dual Intent Visa 

Most nonimmigrant visas require applicants to prove that they intend to leave the U.S. at the end of their visa periods, rather than go on to get a U.S. green card. This means if you fall under this visa category, attempting to adjust your status to permanent resident will violate your status in the eyes of the USCIS. 

However, this is not the case with the L-1 visa. Though it is a nonimmigrant visa, you are allowed to simultaneously intend to spend time as a nonimmigrant in the U.S. and also pursue the possibility of a U.S. green card.. This is known as “dual intent” and is one of the many benefits that make the L-1 so attractive today. 

L-1 Visa to Permanent Residence: Available Green Cards

There are different avenues through which one can get a green card, but for the purpose of this guide, we’ll be focusing on the Employment-Based (EB) Green Card. There are three main classifications under this visa category for which  L-1 visa holders may qualify. 

The first is the EB-1 “First Preference”  employment-based permanent residency, which is awarded to priority workers. These are immigrants who possess extraordinary abilities in key fields including arts, athletics, business and sciences, as well as outstanding researchers and professors. Certain multinational managers and executives may also fall under this category, making the EB-1 visa one of the most popular paths to permanent residency among L-1A visa holders. 

The second classification is the EB-2 “Second Preference” visa, which is awarded to immigrants who are in a profession that requires an advanced degree or possess exceptional ability in a given field. The EB-2 is also available to individuals seeking a national interest waiver. 

The third level is the EB-3 “Third Preference” visa for professionals, skilled workers, and unskilled workers. 

In order to go from an L-1 visa to a green card, you must apply for and get approved for any one of these immigrant visa classifications. Specifically, you’ll need to get approved for an immigrant petition with the USCIS through Forms I-130 or I-140 and adjust status by filing a Form I-485. Alternatively, you can apply for an immigrant visa by filing a Form DS-260 with the U.S. Department of State.

L-1A to Green Card Process

If you are on L-1A status, the most ideal Green Card to apply for is the EB-1 immigrant visa, specifically under the EB-1C category. This is the option for a multinational executive or manager looking to acquire a Green Card so the requirements are somewhat similar. One major advantage of obtaining your green card through the EB-1 first preference category is that you get to avoid the complex labor certification process, since you are already listed as an employee of an international company through your L-1A status.

Also known as the PERM Labor Certification, this process is mandated by the U.S. Department of Labor and is designed to ensure that the employment opportunity will not negatively impact U.S. workers. Essentially, it involves proving that the employment under which you’re applying for the green card is unique and there is an actual shortage of qualified U.S. workers who can fill the role. In most cases, acquiring a PERM Labor Certification can take up a substantial amount of time and funds so it's a good thing L-1A visa holders need not worry about it. 

EB-1C Requirements

In order to apply under this category, L-1 candidates must meet the following requirements:

  • You must have worked as a manager or executive with the foreign company for a minimum of one year in the three years prior to filing the petition.

  • This foreign company must have a qualifying relationship with the intended U.S. employer and you must be entering the United States to continue working in the same managerial or executive capacity. 

  • The U.S. employer must have been established and doing business in the form of goods or services for a minimum of one year in the United States. 

Based on these requirements, it’s easy to see why the EB-1C is so appealing to L-1A visa holders. The requirements are pretty much the same so it’s usually a smoother process for them. 

Application Process

The U.S. employer must petition for an EB-1C visa on behalf of the L-1A visa holder by filing Form I-140, Immigration Petition for Alien Worker. This petition must be filed along with all the necessary supporting documentation proving that the employee meets the requirements for a green card. Once the USCIS receives the visa petition, the date of receipt becomes your “priority date.” 

The U.S. Department of State releases a monthly visa bulletin which you will need to check for when your priority date becomes current. Barring any lengthy backlogs, the dates for the EB-1 often tend to be current so you can file for an adjustment of status or go through consular processing to file Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residency as soon as your petition is approved. Keep in mind that there will be other processes in between, like biometrics appointments and interviews (if deemed necessary by the USCIS). Everything will be communicated to you through an official notice. 

Other subcategories under the EB-1 visa classification may not be easy or downright impossible to obtain for an L-1 visa holder. The EB-1A visa requires extraordinary abilities in a particular field while the EB-1B category is for outstanding professors and researchers who have been internationally recognized for their contributions to a particular academic field. 

Processing Time from L-1A to EB-1C Permanent Resident Status

This entire process typically takes around eight months to a year. Once approved, the EB-1 permanent residence card takes around six months to be issued.  

L-1B to Green Card Process 

Typically, the most ideal and practical employment-based visas for L-1B visa holders are the EB-2 or the EB-3 green cards. The EB-1, while not impossible to obtain, is simply too difficult for an L-1B visa holder to qualify for and is therefore unlikely to be successful. 

Regardless of whether you’re going for the EB-2 or EB-3 visa, the first step is to ask your U.S. employer to sponsor your green card petition. The only exception to this rule is if you are applying for the EB-2 visa under the National Interest Waiver classification.

EB-2 Requirements

Qualifying for the EB-2 visa means having a job that requires and clearly demonstrates your exceptional ability or the need for your advanced degree. 

  • Advanced Degree Sub-category: This typically means a Masters or a Doctorate degree in a particular field. In the absence of such an advanced degree, a bachelor’s degree plus five years’ working experience in the same field may be considered as an equivalent.

  • Exceptional Ability Sub-category: This means having a certain degree of expertise in a particular field that is significantly above that ordinarily encountered. 

EB-3 Requirements

Most individuals on L-1B status may find themselves applying under this category due to the specialized nature of their work. There are three sub-categories - Professionals, Skilled Workers and Unskilled (Other) workers.

  • The USCIS defines “Professionals” as persons whose job requires at least a U.S. baccalaureate degree or its foreign equivalent and belong to the professional body governing their practices. 

  • Skilled workers refers to persons whose job requires at least two years training or relevant work experience, which cannot be of a seasonal or temporary nature. 

  • The “unskilled workers” subcategory is for those who perform unskilled labor that requires less than two years training or relevant work experience, not of a temporary or seasonal nature.

Application Process

The process of transitioning from an L-1B visa to a Green Card is quite similar to that of the L-1A process, except in this instance the U.S. employer must first obtain a PERM Labor Certification on your behalf before filing an I-140 petition. After that, it’s pretty much the same process -- identify your priority date and wait for it to become current based on the Department of State’s monthly visa bulletin.

Once your priority date is current, then it’s just a matter of submitting your I-485 form for adjustment of status to legal permanent resident. Again, there will be other processes in between, any of which may be deemed necessary by the USCIS and will be communicated to you through an official notice. 

Processing Time From L-1B Status to Permanent Resident

Obtaining the PERM Labor Certification significantly adds (around eight months) to the overall processing time. In some cases, like when the employer is subjected to supervised recruitment or an audit, the PERM processing time can take up to two years. Both the I-140 and I-485 each have a 6-month average processing time depending on the Service Center processing the petition. 

Overall, the best-case scenario for an L-1B to a green card processing time comes to at least one year and eight months. 

Adjustment of Status or Consular Processing?

This usually depends on whether you’re inside or outside of the United States at the time of filing your petition. If you’re in the U.S. you can simply submit your I-485 form with the USCIS to adjust your status. Of course, you will have to wait for the 6-month average processing time since premium processing is not available for this type of petition. 

On the other hand, consular processing means traveling to the designated U.S. consulate or embassy in your home country for a one-on-one interview with a consular officer. This process may seem inconvenient, but it usually comes with a shorter processing time. You may want to consult an immigration attorney to determine the most appropriate process for your case.

Final Thoughts 

We hope you found this guide informative enough to help you navigate the various nuances involved with transitioning from your L-1 visa status to a bonafide Green Card holder. And while becoming a U.S. permanent resident is a fantastic accomplishment, it is also crucial to consider how your living situation will be afterward.  

Having lived in the United States for quite some time now, you may have noticed that applying for credit cards, loans, apartment rentals and other essentials requires that you have a U.S. credit history. Fortunately, Nova Credit lets you use your foreign credit history from certain countries to apply for several of these essential products and services from our partners. 

This means that you can apply for great credit cards, phone plans, and more using your hard-earned credit history from back home—rather than needing to start from scratch. If you are approved for these products and manage them responsibly, you will start to quickly build a U.S. credit history.

Currently, Nova Credit serves individuals coming from Australia, Brazil, Canada, Dominican Republic, India, Kenya, Mexico, Nigeria, Philippines, South Korea, Spain, Switzerland, and the U.K.

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More from Nova Credit:

The ultimate guide to the L-1 visa

An overview of the L-1A visa for non-immigrant workers in the United States

A guide to the L-1B Visa for non-immigrant work in the United States

How to get an L-1 Visa extension

Everything you need to know about the L-2 Visa for L-1 dependents

L-1 vs. H-1B: Which work visa is right for you?

Everything You Need to Know About the Blanket Visa Petition for L-1 Visas

How to Transition From an L-1 Visa to an H-1B Visa

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