L-1 visa holders may be granted extensions when their visa is close to expiry for up to two years at the time, for a total of seven years in the U.S. for L-1 employees and five years for L-1B employees. In this guide, we explain more about how you can apply for an L-1 visa extension if your time in the U.S. is coming to an end.
L-1 visa background
The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (U.S.CIS) awards the L-1 “Intracompany Transferee” visa to foreign employees of multinational companies with operations in the U.S. as well as employees of international companies looking to establish a new office in the United States. There are two categories of the L-1 work visa:
- L-1A visa: foreign employees serving in a managerial or executive capacity
- L-1B visa: foreign employees with specialized knowledge relevant to the organization
L-1 visa requirements
To qualify for an L-1 visa, you must fulfill the following requirements:
- Qualifying relationship between the multinational company and the U.S. company in the form of a parent, sister, subsidiary or affiliate
- L-1 visa candidate must have worked for the foreign company for at least one continuous year within the three years prior to entering the United States
- L-1 visa candidate must have worked for the foreign company as a manager, executive or specialized knowledge worker and must be entering the U.S. in the same capacity
- L-1 visa holders must have the intention of returning to their home country at the expiration of their L-1 status
Key benefits of the L-1 visa
The L-1 visa offers the following advantages:
- Ability to live and work in the U.S. for the duration of your visa
- Ability to bring your immediate family (spouse and unmarried children below 21 years) with you to the U.S. on an L-2 visa
- Employment authorization for your spouse and school enrollment for your children
- Dual intent visa—allowing L-1 employees to also apply for permanent residency through the Green Card program without affecting your L-1 status
- Eligibility for premium processing
L-1 visa period of stay
L-1A and L-1B visa duration
The L-1A and L-1B visas different periods of stay. L-1A visa holders are usually granted an initial three years, with the possibility of an extension in two-year increments. However, this is subject to a maximum period of seven years, after which they may be required to leave the U.S. if they have not switched to a different visa.
L-1B visa holders, on the other hand, may also be awarded an extension in two-year increments, but the maximum permissible period of stay is set at five years.
In some instances, an L-1B holder may convert to an L-1A status in order to benefit from the longer duration of stay, but they must meet the requirements for the L-1A visa and secure support from a U.S. employer.
L-1 visa duration for new offices and existing offices
Another factor to consider when planning an L-1 visa extension is whether the L-1 visa was issued for an existing U.S. office or for the purpose of setting up a new office in the States.
In the case of a new office, the U.S.CIS typically issues the L-1 visa for an initial one-year period, with the possibility of two-year extensions. For existing U.S. offices, the term limits for L-1A and L-1B apply.
Once an L-1 visa holder has reached their five- or seven-year limit and is unable to switch to a different visa or a Green Card, they will have to remain outside of the U.S. for at least one year before they can reapply for an L-1 visa.
L-1 visa extension basics
Just because the L-1 visa is eligible for extension doesn't always mean it will be granted. Per the USCIS, the eligibility requirements to extend an L-1 visa include:
- Applicant holds a valid L-1 visa
- L-1 visa holder has not committed any crime while in the U.S. that would make them ineligible for a visa
- Applicant must not have violated the conditions of their admission into the U.S. in any way when the initial L-1 visa was granted
- Applicant holds a valid passport for the duration of their stay in the U.S.
When to apply for an extension
Aim to send in your application at least 45 days before the scheduled expiration date, as listed on your Form I-94 Arrival/Departure Record.
For instance, if you entered the U.S. on an L-1 status on January 1, 2020, then the I-94 will indicate the expiration date as December 31, 2023, meaning you must file your extension petition latest on December 31, 2023, but preferably a lot earlier.
As long as the USCIS receives your petition before the expiration date, you need not worry about leaving the U.S. while awaiting approval to extend your status.
L-1 visa extension process
Obtaining an L-1 visa extension is quite similar to the process of applying for your initial L-1 status. Your employer will file Form I-129 (Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker) with the USCIS. You’ll also need to be physically present in the United States at the time of filing the visa extension petition.
There are a couple of required documents that must support the Form I-129 when filing the extension petition. In particular, your employer should submit the following:
- A copy of your previous L-1 approval notice
- Copies of your L-1 visa and Form I-94
- Proof that you have been employed with the petitioning employer for the initial duration of your L-1 visa; these include copies of your payslips and the W-2 form (IRS tax form)
- A signed letter supporting your L-1 visa extension. This letter should basically explain your employment conditions, such as salary, schedule and responsibilities as well as reasons why your stay in the U.S. should be extended
- Proof that the employer is still doing business in the United States through copies of their recent tax returns and audited financial statements
- Filing fee receipt
Where the L-1 visa was granted for the purpose of establishing a new office in the U.S., the approval for the extension will depend on the overall viability of your employer’s business operations over the past year. Additional detailed documentation may be required by the USCIS.
Note that this is only a general list. The USCIS may request additional documents depending on your circumstances.
L-1 visa extension processing time
The actual processing time for L-1 visa extensions tends to vary based on the service center that handles your I-129 petition. If the service center has lots of backlogs, processing can take a couple of months.
Since all L-1 visa extensions require the same I-129 petition, there is no difference in the processing time between the L-1A and L-1B visas.
L-1 premium processing
L-1 visa extension petitions may be eligible for premium processing, an expedited application process, for an additional fee. If you apply through premium processing, your petition should be handled within 15 calendar days.
Keep in mind that just because you opted for premium processing doesn't automatically guarantee an approved L-1 visa extension. It only shortens the processing time. If USCIS doesn't process your petition within 15 calendar days, they will refund the premium processing fee.
Be sure to consult an immigration attorney for your visa application.
Regular vs. blanket visa extensions
Just like there are two main ways to obtain an L-1 visa, there are two types of procedures for getting an L-1 visa extension.
If you were awarded an L-1 visa through the regular procedure, then chances are your L-1 visa extension will also be handled the regular way: one application and approval for each individual beneficiary.
On the other hand, if you received an L-1 visa through your employer’s blanket petition, then they can simply file a blanket petition again for visa extensions for multiple employees at a time.
In order to qualify for L-1 blanket extensions, the U.S. employer must have a minimum of 1,000 employees and must have obtained L-1 visas for at least 10 foreign employees. Additionally, the company must have a combined revenue of no less than $25 million.
Change or adjustment of visa status
If you spent the entirety of your L-1 visa status within the U.S. and have maxed out your extensions, you may consider other options, including a change of status or adjustment of status.
Change of status
A change of status is the process of switching from one nonimmigrant visa status to another nonimmigrant visa status.
Your L-1 status must still be active before you can change to another nonimmigrant visa status. The change of status process is only done in the U.S., so you’ll need to be physically present at the time of filing the petition.
Here are some nonimmigrant visa options worth considering:
- E-2 visa. This investment-based visa lets you work in the U.S. based on your investment in a U.S. business.
- O-1 visa. This visa is available to people with extraordinary abilities in certain fields.
- H-1B visa. Candidates for this visa must be in a specialty occupation and must have at least a bachelor’s degree or its equivalent to be eligible.
Adjustment of status
This refers to the process of converting from a nonimmigrant status to an immigrant status. Similar to a change of status, this process is only handled within the U.S. You’ll also need to make sure your L-1 status is still valid at the time of filing your adjustment of status petition.
Some popular options for adjustment of status from L-1 include:
- E-B5 visa. This is an investment-based visa that awards immigrant status. Candidates will need to put up a minimum of $500,000 in a U.S. business and create at least 10 full-time jobs for U.S. workers.
- Green Card. As a dual intent visa, the L-1 visa lets you apply for permanent residency through the Green Card program without having to prove your ties to your home country or putting your L-1 status on the line.
- E-B1 visa. This visa is for outstanding professors and researchers as well as executives and managers who have worked at a foreign branch of a U.S. company.
L-2 extensions for L-1 dependents
The extension process for L-2 visa holders involves filing Form I-539, which must also be supported with required documents. Just like with your I-129 petition, the I-539 petition must be sent to the USCIS before the expiration date of your dependents’ L-2 status. Consider consulting an immigration attorney to ensure a smooth process.
Recapturing time spent outside the U.S.
One of the most attractive features of the L-1 visa is that its term limits only refer to time spent in the U.S. This means you can recapture any time spent outside the U.S. while seeking an extension.
This process requires detailed documentation proving that you were actually outside of the U.S. for that period. These include, among others:
- Flight confirmations
- Travel itinerary
- Passport stamps
- Boarding passes
- I-94 records
Your immediate family in the U.S. on L-2 visa status may also recapture the time they spent outside the U.S.
For more resources on how to navigate your new life in the U.S., visit Nova Credit’s resource library where you can learn about everything from renting an apartment to finding the best credit cards for noncitizens.