An overview of the L-1A visa for nonimmigrant workers in the United States
The L-1A visa provides foreign nationals the opportunity to transfer to the United States and work in a managerial or executive capacity. In this article, we take an in-depth look into the L-1A nonimmigrant visa.
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The L-1A visa provides foreign nationals the opportunity to transfer to the United States and work in a managerial or executive capacity. It also allows multinational companies to send their foreign employees to the U.S. with the purpose of establishing a new branch, subsidiary, or affiliate of their company.
Below we take an in-depth look into the L-1A nonimmigrant visa, its key features, application requirements, as well as information on how you can apply for a Green Card as an L-1A visa holder. If you're looking for information about the L-1B visa instead, click here.
What is an L-1A visa?
Also known as the L-1A Intracompany Transferee Executive or Manager visa, the L-1A visa is a nonimmigrant visa issued by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) for foreign executives or managers being transferred to their company's offices in the U.S. Foreign companies with no affiliated offices in the U.S. can also use an L-1A visa to send a manager or executive with the purpose of establishing one there.
The L-1A visa is one of two types of work visas under the L-1 visa category.Its counterpart, the L-1B visa is for workers with specialized knowledge who need to transfer to the U.S. for a period of five years. Upon expiry, the candidate can qualify for L-1 visa holder status again only after working outside the U.S. for the company’s parent, subsidiary, branch or affiliate for at least one year.
Defining a manager/executive for L-1A visa purpose
There are specific conditions that must be met before an individual is eligible for the L-1A visa. For example, it may not be enough for you to hold an executive or manager position and only be responsible for supervising lower-level staff — you must have management responsibility for professional-level employees, as well.
As an executive who’s interested in an L-1A visa, you should have the following responsibilities:
Oversee the management of the company or is in charge of a major department within the organization
Set goals and policies of the company and can make large decisions with minimal oversight
Be supervised only by higher-level executives, like stakeholders or a board of directors
On the other hand, a manager is defined as someone who:
Primarily runs the company or is a key component within the organization
Can hire, fire, and recommend other necessary actions regarding the company’s personnel
Supervises the work of other managerial and professional employees
Exercises discretionary direction over the daily operations of the business
In any case, L-1A visa candidates must have worked for the multinational employer for at least one continuous year within the last three years before their entry into the U.S. L-1 Visa holders must also have intentions of leaving the U.S upon completion of their stay.
L-1A employer qualification requirements
One of the most important requirements for any U.S employer petitioning for the L-1 visa is the need to have a qualifying relationship with the foreign company. This can be accomplished in either one of four ways — headquarters and branch; parent and subsidiary; affiliates owned by the company; and sister company owned by the mutual parent.
The company normally has to remain in business as a U.S. employer and a foreign employer in at least one other country throughout the L-1A visa holder’s stay in the U.S.
If the U.S. employer is petitioning the L-1A visa to enable their employee to establish a new office in the U.S., they must provide proof that they have enough physical space to set up the new office.
5 Key advantages of L-1A visa
One great thing about the L-1 visa category is that it’s highly beneficial for both the candidate and the petitioning U.S. employer.
For L-1 visa holders, the primary advantages are as follows:
1. Relatively fewer eligibility conditions
There are other nonimmigrant visas available to foreign nationals who want to work in the U.S., but the downside with many of them is they have steep eligibility requirements.
For instance, applicants for the O-1 Visa should be able to demonstrate their extraordinary abilities by way of sustained national or international acclaim. Another work visa, the H-1B, requires candidates to have specialized knowledge and at least a bachelor's degree. Some work visas are only available to citizens from a particular country, such as the TN Visa which only caters to Canadian and Mexican nationals.
The L-1A visa, however, only requires you to be a manager or executive in a multinational company in order to be eligible. Of course, the petitioning U.S. company must also fulfill its conditions, but on the part of the individual, a managerial or executive position is the prevailing condition for qualification. This presents a fantastic opportunity for many people who are otherwise deemed ineligible for other work visas.
2. No limit on the number of visas issued in a fiscal year
This is one of the distinguishing factors of the L-1 visa compared to other work visas like the H-1B and EB-1. There is an annual limit of 65,000 H-1B visas and 40,000 EB-1 visas issued per year. Moreover, EB-1 visa applicants may be further limited by per-country limits. This makes it very difficult to obtain either visa. On the other hand, for L-1 visas (both L-1A and L1B), there are no limits to how many are issued in a fiscal year.
3. Spouses and dependents can transfer to the U.S and get a work permit
If you are an L-1A visa holder, you may be able to bring your spouse and children along with you to the U.S. They should apply for L-2 visas, which are normally granted the same period of stay as the L-1A visa holder.
What’s more, spouses and children who hold L-2 status can obtain a work permit by filing Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization. Once the applications are approved, your wife and dependents can then start working in the U.S. to earn for the family.
4. No educational requirements
You don't need to have a degree to qualify for the L-1 visa. This presents a massive advantage over some other work visas, like the H-1B visa, where a bachelor’s degree is the minimum education requirement to qualify.
5. Dual intent
Like several other nonimmigrant visas, the USCIS considers the L-1 visa to be dual intent. This means both L-1A and L-1B visa holders can apply for permanent residency through the Green Card program without jeopardizing their current visa status. In contrast, some work visas, like the H-1B and TN visas do not allow for dual intent, which means you won’t be able to pursue a Green Card.
Benefits of the L-1A visa to employers
Multinational and U.S companies have much to gain from petitioning L-1A visas for its managers and executives. These include:
Blanket petition - Companies with a combined U.S. revenue of at least $25 million or have a minimum of 1,000 employees working in the U.S. can file a single petition for multiple employees. This is known as a blanket petition. It’s a major advantage for larger organizations that need to transfer several employees at a time.
No labor condition application (LCA) requirement - An LCA is a certification from the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) specifying the shortage of qualified U.S. personnel to fulfill the responsibilities required for a position. Employers petitioning L-1 visas for employee transfers are not required to obtain an LCA.
Opening a new office in the U.S. - Multinational companies that don't currently have a branch or office in the U.S. can use the L-1A visa to send their employee to set one up. L-1 visas for this purpose are granted an initial one-year period of stay and may be extended if the office has grown large enough to require a manager or executive to oversee operations.
L-1A visa drawbacks
The L-1A visa may have a plethora of attractive features but it is not without its limitations and drawbacks. For one, applicants must already be employed with an organization that is large enough to have a U.S. office or the means to open a new one. Also, you must have worked at the company for at least one full year in the three years preceding your transfer into the U.S.
Other drawbacks include:
No extensions granted past the maximum stay period
- L-1A visa holders are allowed to work for a maximum period of seven years with no option for extension. Workers may be granted one extension after the initial three-year period. Either way, at the end of their allowed stay period, both L-1A and L-1B visa holders must change to a different visa status or apply for a new L-1 visa.
Candidates must only work for the employer sponsoring their visa
- As an L-1A visa holder, you are not allowed to work part-time for another employer or start your own business. You must only work for your sponsoring employer in order to maintain your L-1 status.
Is the L-1 visa affected by current restrictions on work visas?
President Trump’s administration has made clear its intentions to clamp down on fraudulent visa practices. This can be seen with the rising number of requests for evidence (RFE) and subsequent petition denials for L-1 and H-1B visas. Recent statistics from USCIS show a high rate of RFEs and denials in the first three quarters of FY 2019. Similarly, L-1 petition approval rates by the USCIS are at a low level of around 72% in 2019 compared to FY 2016’s 85%.
L-1A visa application process
Applying for the L-1A visa involves both the employer and the foreign national. The application process generally follows the following steps:
The petitioning employer files Form I-129 along with the necessary fees and a detailed outline of the duties and responsibilities of the manager/executive role
Get the receipt number on the approved Form I-129
Complete online Form DS-160
Schedule a visa interview appointment
Employee attends the visa interview, bringing all required L-1 visa documents
Transitioning from an L-1A visa to a Green Card
L-1A visa holders may apply for a Green Card without losing their L-1 status. A common way to do this is through the EB-1C immigrant work visa, which was created for multinational executives and managers. The requirements for qualification under the EB-1C Visa are similar to those of an L-1A visa.
Transitioning from an L-1A visa to an EB-1C Green Card usually begins with the employer filing an I-140 petition on behalf of the candidate. Luckily, your employer is not required to obtain a PERM (Program Electronic Review Management) Labor Certification to file the petition.
Applicants will need to check the visa bulletin released by the Department of State (DOS) every month to check if their priority date is current. EB-1 visa dates tend to be current so the applicant can file for an adjustment of status upon petition approval.
If you are currently in the U.S. at the time of filing, there’s usually no need to go for consular processing to adjust your status from L-1A to EB-1C. This process may take a couple of months and normally cannot be expedited with premium processing. In any case, make sure to talk to an immigration attorney to help you understand your options.
While the process of applying and obtaining the visa may appear daunting, this guide is intended to help simplify the process of starting your new life in the U.S. After you have been approved for your L-1A visa and are preparing for your new U.S., consider how you will live during your stay — especially how you manage your finances from setting up a bank account to managing your credit. In the U.S., credit history is important in securing things necessary for everyday life from credit cards to utilities and even your apartment.
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