The L-1 nonimmigrant visa allows certain foreign nationals to temporarily transfer to the US branch office, parent, subsidiary, or affiliate of a multinational company. In this guide, we explain the general outline and structuring of the L-1 visa, as well as eligibility requirements and possible alternatives if you do not qualify.
L-1 Visa Requirements Overview
The L-1 visa is issued by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to allow multinational companies to send executives, managers and specialized knowledge employees to an office or affiliate in the US. These companies also use the L-1 visa to send their workers into the US with the purpose of establishing a new office or branch in the country.
There are two main types of L-1 nonimmigrant visas and each has its own set of requirements. Here is a quick breakdown of each type:
1. L-1A Visa For Managers or Executives
This is also known as the L-1A Intracompany Transferee Executive or Manager visa. There are a number of stringent conditions that must be fulfilled before an applicant can qualify for the L-1A visa. For example, just because the candidate supervises lower-level employees within a particular department doesn't mean that they automatically qualify for the L-1A visa.
We’ll get to those requirements in a minute, but the important thing to understand is that the USCIS has imposed strict guidelines that must be fully met by the applicant if they’re to have any chance of successful visa issuance. The maximum duration of stay for L-1A visa holders is seven years.
L-1A Visa Definition of Executive/Managerial Capacity
To qualify for the L-1A nonimmigrant visa, the candidate must meet the definition of the executive or managerial role as stipulated by the USCIS.
Executive Capacity - responsibilities may include:
Oversee the daily management of the organization
Establish goals, policies, and procedures of the organization
Having the authority to make executive decisions within and for the company
Supervising high-level employees in the company
Receiving general supervision from high-level directors and stockholders
Managerial Capacity - responsibilities may include:
Heading a key department within the organization
Supervising and controlling the work of those in professional, managerial, or supervisory roles within the organization
Having the authority to fire, hire, and recommend personnel
Directing the company’s daily operations
2. L-1B Visa For Specialized Knowledge Employees
The USCIS issues the L-1B Intracompany Transferee Specialized Knowledge Visa to allow multinational companies looking to send their foreign workers with specialized knowledge to their company’s offices in the United States. These specialized knowledge employees are essentially indispensable to various functions that relate to the interests of the sponsoring company.
Again, it’s important to have a clear understanding of what specialized knowledge means for the purpose of qualifying for the L-1B visa. However, the current regulations do not specify these functions or company interests, so the adjudicating officers at the USCIS tend to have the ultimate decision. The L-1B visa comes with a maximum duration of stay of five years.
L-1B Definition of Specialized Knowledge
Specialized knowledge, for the purpose of the L-1B visa, refers to the employee's in-depth understanding of the foreign company’s products, services, equipment, techniques, research, management processes or other key interests and how it applies to international markets. Candidates looking to work in the US as specialized knowledge workers on L-1B status must be able to prove to the USCIS that their knowledge is not commonly held. As such, they’ll need to provide evidence of
How long it took to acquire this specialized knowledge
How valuable the specialized knowledge will be to the US company
How the specialized knowledge is unique and not something just anyone down the road can do
Generally, the employee’s skill or knowledge must make them an indispensable component of the organization’s operations or functions.
Procedures for Getting L-1 Visas
There are two different procedures for obtaining an L-1 visa -- Regular and Blanket. The main difference between them is that regular L-1 visas need to be approved by the USCIS individually, while L-1 Blanket visas do not require such individual approvals and are instead approved in batches for the same company. The L-1 Blanket visa procedure is only available to organizations that meet certain criteria, which we’ll cover below.
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L-1 Visa Requirements
There’s a pretty long list of requirements for those looking to obtain an L-1 visa and both the candidate and the sponsoring company are involved with their fulfilment. For instance, the foreign company must have a qualifying employer relationship with the US company, whether as an affiliate, branch, parent, sister or subsidiary.
The company must also be an employer in the United States and in at least one other country for as long as the L-1 visa holder is in the US. In cases where petitioning companies don't yet have operations in the US (like with establishing a new office in the US), they must demonstrate their willingness to do.
Keep in mind that all non-English documents must come with a notarized English translation. Here’s the full rundown of L-1 visa requirements for both the organization and the individual:
Requirements from the International Company
Annual report and financials for the last 3 years
Company brochure or equivalent marketing material
Copy of lease for business premise
Evidence of qualifying employer with the US company
A detailed organizational chart with a breakdown of the L-1 candidate’s role
A job offer letter detailing duties to be performed by the candidate while in the US
Requirements from the US Company
Same as the requirements for the international company, except the documents must be unique to the US company.
L-1 Visa Requirements for the Individual
The candidate must have worked with the international company for a period of one continuous year within the last three years prior to their admission into the US.
He or she must have been employed with the international company in a qualifying position -- executive or managerial position -- and must be coming to work in an executive or managerial position with the US company.
The candidate must be qualified for the role by virtue of their prior education and years of experience.
L-1 visa holders must have the intention of departing the United States at the expiration of their L-1 status (seven years max).
L-1B Visa Candidates
Like the L-1A visa, candidates for L-1B visas must have worked with the international company for one continuous year during the last three years prior to their entry into the United States.
The candidate must be seeking to enter the United States in a specialized knowledge capacity that is not commonly held among qualified US workers.
The L-1B visa holder must intend to leave the US upon completion of his or her authorized stay (five years max).
Per the 2004 Visa Reform Act, an L-1B visa holder must only work with the US company through which the L-1B visa was granted or risk violating their status. This ground of ineligibility applies to initial, amended, or extended L-1B petitions.
L-1 Visa Requirements for Blanket Petitions
The international company must already have an office in the US that has been in operation for a minimum of one year and at least 1,000 employees.
The international company must be established enough to have at least three other branches, affiliates or subsidiaries across the globe.
Both the international and US companies must have combined annual revenue of at least $25 million dollars.
The company must have successfully been approved for at least 10 L-1 approvals within the 12 month period prior to filing the blanket petition
Requirements for Establishing a New Company in the United States
The international company must meet all of the above requirements, but instead of an annual report and other financials, they must provide a practical business plan showing projected income, balance sheets, organizational chart and any other document as requested by the USCIS. The company must also show that they have sufficient physical premises to set up the US office.
L-1 Visa Application Denials
The L-1 visa comes with a host of benefits, including “dual intent” for green card applications, no annual limit on visa issuance per fiscal year and no educational requirements. On top of that, spouses and young unmarried children of L-1 visa holders are allowed to enter the US on an L2 visa, which also allows them to obtain a work permit and enrol in US schools.
With all these benefits, it’s easy to see why the L-1 visa is such a popular way to gain entry into the US. However, despite all of these advantages, the L-1 visa is not the easiest work visa to obtain so not everyone who applies gets approved. This is because the USCIS has become more strict with the criteria for who qualifies as an executive, manager, or specialized knowledge worker.
Why the L-1 Visa Might be Denied
Inability to meet the minimum managed employees requirement -- This mostly applies to L-1A visa candidates under managerial capacity. The USCIS expects managers to have a certain number of employees under their supervision. However, there is no fixed minimum of required supervised employees so the final decision comes down to the discretion of the USCIS officer.
Proposed wages is not at par with industry standards -- The USCIS may deny the petition if the L-1 candidate’s proposed salary is considerably lower or higher than the industry standards. That’s why the petitioning company must make sure to check the prevailing wages for each position before filing the L-1 petition.
Infeasible business growth plan -- Some companies tend to embellish their business plans with exaggerated figures and unrealistic success metrics to impress the USCIS. This tactic will only arouse suspicion and increase the likelihood of a denial for the L-1 petition.
The job title does not match the duties to be performed -- This is one of the most common reasons for an L-1A petition denial. For instance, an account executive/manager is applying for an L-1 visa to work for the company’s US office and his duties include working closely with customers and seeing to their concerns. His application would most likely be denied because even though his title includes “executive” or “manager”, his job duties do not reflect his ability to oversee daily operations or influence the company’s decisions.
Work is not deemed specialized -- It can be hard to prove to the USCIS that the L-1 candidate’s specialized knowledge is invaluable to the company and that a US worker could not be found to handle the same tasks. Even if the employee meets the eligibility requirements, both the company and the L-1 visa applicant must provide sufficient documentation to support the application.
What can you do if your L-1 visa petition is denied?
If the L-1 visa application is denied under section 221(g) for inadequate documentation, then the candidate simply needs to provide the additional documents as requested by the USCIS.
If the application is denied pursuant to section 214(b) for insufficient information demonstrating the candidate’s ties to their home country and intention to return upon the expiry of their L-1 visa, then simply provide any requested proof. This can be in the form of documented properties or assets back in the home country, family members and the financial capacity to visit the US and return.
Unfortunately, the decision of the USCIS is final with no option to appeal. However, you always have the ability to re-apply in the future or see if you qualify for an alternative visa.
Possible Alternatives to the L-1 Visa
The only other nonimmigrant work visa that is directly comparable to the L-1 is probably the H1B (specialty occupation) visa. The E2 Investor Visa is also a good alternative, although it requires the applicant to put up a substantial investment that they will be controlling in the United States.
Other types of US visas that you might wish to consider include:
B1 Visa -- This visa is for persons who want to enter the US for temporary work
E1 Visa -- Similar to the E2 Investor Visa but for traders who sell a substantial amount of goods in the US.
EB5 Visa -- This is for investors who are willing and able to put at least $500,000 into a US commercial enterprise.
EB1 Visa -- This is for persons of extraordinary ability in their profession and outstanding researchers and professors.
The Key Takeaway
The L-1 visa offers a great opportunity to live and work in the United States. And while this guide is aimed at helping you understand its many requirements, it is equally important to know the next steps after receiving your approved L-1 visa.
Consider how your living situation will be in the US — especially how you manage your finances and obtain certain services. For instance, did you know that a US credit history is required for securing basic necessities like apartment rentals, car leases and even phone/internet plans?
Unfortunately, your credit history from your home country doesn't follow you into the US, so building your US credit basically means you’ll have to start from scratch. Thankfully, there is a way to use your international credit with the Nova Credit Global Credit Passport®.
How Nova Credit Helps L-1 Visa Holders Arrive and Thrive in the US
This Credit Passport essentially helps US newcomers bring their international credit history with them into the US, which lenders and creditors can then use to evaluate their applications for credit cards, apartment rentals, car leases, loans and other services. Nova Credit also provides a full lineup of services designed to ease your transition to the US. Check out our offerings for US newcomers today.
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