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

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The L-1B visa is one of two types of visas that fall under the L-1 visa category that are available to foreign nationals interested in working in the United States. We explain some key features, benefits, and restrictions of the L-1B visa in this guide. 

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

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The L-1B visa is one of two types of visas that fall under the L-1 visa category that are available to foreign nationals interested in working in the United States. We explain some key features, benefits, and restrictions of the L-1B visa in this guide.  If you're looking for information about the L-1A visa instead, click here.

What is an L-1B visa?

The main purpose of the L-1B Intracompany Transferee Specialized Knowledge visa is to let multinational companies transfer their foreign employees to their company’s U.S. office. Currently, L-1B visa holders can live and work in the U.S. for a maximum of five years with no possibility of extension.

Similar to the L-1A visa, the L-1B visa is used for intracompany transfers of foreign employees with specialized knowledge relating to the interests of the business. L-1B visa can also be used to relocate employees to open a new branch, subsidiary, or affiliate of a foreign company in the U.S.

Generally, to obtain an L-1B visa, the foreign employee must possess what the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) calls “specialized knowledge.” The definition of specialized knowledge is quite subjective, however, which can be confusing for companies who wish to take advantage of this visa type.

What is specialized knowledge for L-1B visa purposes?

According to USCIS, specialized knowledge entails that the foreign employee possesses specific knowledge about the petitioning company’s product, service, research, equipment, management, technique or other company-related interests. 

With this definition, it’s easy to assume that any employee with enough years of specialist experience within an organization would possess specialized knowledge. While the assumption is generally correct, the definition of specialized knowledge for L-1B visa purposes can be a bit stricter. 

To meet the definition of specialized knowledge, the candidate must generally be a key employee whose specific knowledge and experience sets them apart from others in the organization or industry that have similar levels of experience. Simply put, the petitioning employer must prove to the USCIS that the L-1B visa applicant’s specialized knowledge is unique within the international market and is needed to handle key issues that directly relate to their proprietary interest in the U.S.

As an L-1B visa applicant, this definition may mean that you must be a member of a particular profession, such as architects, surgeons, engineers, teachers, and lawyers among others. 

L-1B visa eligibility requirements

In addition to demonstrating specialized knowledge, both the petitioning employer and the candidate should meet some certain criteria. To qualify for the L-1B Visa classification, the U.S. employer:

  • Must have a qualifying relationship with a foreign company (affiliate, branch, subsidiary, or parent)
  • Must be currently doing business or plans on doing business in the foreseeable future within the U.S., and in at least one other country for the duration of the L-1B visa holder’s stay in the U.S.

Important note: It is not enough to have an agent or office in the U.S. and abroad to meet the definition of “doing business.” Rather, the company petitioning the L-1B visa should be actively providing goods and/or services and earning revenue. 

The qualification criteria for the candidate include: 

  • Must have been working abroad for the petitioning employer for an entire year within the three years prior to their entry into the U.S.
  • Must be willing to return to their home country following the expiration of their L-1B status
  • Must only work for the petitioning company for the duration of their L-1B visa

L-1B visa requirements for establishing new offices in the U.S.

Multinational companies looking to transfer an employee with specialized knowledge to the U.S. for the purpose of establishing a new office are typically required to:

  • Show proof that it has enough physical space to set up the new office
  • Demonstrate the financial ability to pay the foreign worker and start business operations in the U.S.

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Period of stay and status adjustment for L-1B visa holders

According to USCIS, qualified L-1B visa candidates can stay in the U.S. for up to three years initially, after which they may request to extend their stay for an additional two years. Once the candidate has reached the maximum limit of five years, no further extensions can be given. 

To establish a new office in the U.S., L-1B visa holders are initially allowed to live and work in the U.S. for one year. You can extend your stay by two years twice for a total of five years under the L-1B visa including the initial period of stay. After that, no further extensions can be given.

If you’d like to remain in the U.S. beyond the five-year limit, you must file for Change/Adjustment of Status before your stay period expires to switch to a different visa type. You can also request that your employer petition for a new L-1 visa on your behalf. Other types of nonimmigrant work visas, such as the L-1A and H-1B visa, have a longer allowed period of stay, making them good options if you’d like to switch to a different visa type to extend your stay in the U.S.

Change of status: L-1B to L-1A 

If you’re interested in petitioning for an adjustment of status to L-1A, make sure to take action before your L-1B visa expires. To be eligible, you’ll typically have to fulfill the following conditions:

  • Be responsible for establishing policies and goals for the organization and can make decisions regarding daily business operations
  • Manage a key department within the organization and be in a position to supervise the work of other managerial and professional staff in the company
  • Have the authority to hire, fire and decide on other crucial personnel-related matters within the organization

Generally, the L-1B visa is employer-specific. This means that you won’t be able to change your employer except under special conditions. You can learn more about the specifics of changing your visa from an L-1B to an L-1A here.

Adjustment of status: L-1B to Green Card

Both L-1A and L-1B visas allow for dual intent, which means that they offer a path to permanent residency (also known as a Green Card) in the U.S. 

Because the L-1B is a work visa, you can explore other employment-based Green Cards available to workers holding L-1B status. 

  • E-B2 Green Card - This immigrant visa is available to candidates who demonstrate exceptional ability in their field or possess an advanced degree. This means finding an employer who clearly requires your exceptional ability or your advanced degree in order to qualify for the E-B2 visa
  • E-B3 Green Card - This is available to professionals (minimum of bachelor’s degree), skilled workers (at least 2 years training or work experience) and unskilled workers (unskilled labor requiring less than 2 years training or work experience). This may be the more popular option among L-1B visa holders since they already have documentation of their specialized knowledge and can easily fall under the professionals or skilled workers category

Other Green Cards are also available, but they’re usually more difficult to obtain as an L-1B visa holder. For instance, the E-B1 Green Card normally only caters to those who have won international awards, top-level researchers, managers and executives. This immigration visa is more popular among L-1A visa holders because the eligibility requirements are somewhat similar.

There’s also the E-B4 Green Card, which is available to religious workers and translators, and the E-B5 visa, which caters to foreign nationals interested in investing significant capital in the U.S. To find out more about filing for an adjustment of status and your eligibility for a different type of working visa, it’s best to talk to an immigration lawyer.

Transitioning from a L-1B visa to a Green Card

If you’re interested in acquiring a Green Card, the first common step is ask your current employer if they would consider sponsoring you. If this isn’t possible, you’ll need to find a new U.S. employer who’s willing to petition on your behalf. If you qualify for an E-B2 Green Card, you can request that this requirement to be waived through the National Interest Waiver. For this, however, you’ll have to demonstrate how your exceptional ability or advanced degree is crucial to the national interest of the U.S.

If you’re going through a sponsoring employer, the company will have to obtain a PERM Labor Certification on your behalf that demonstrates that there are no qualified U.S. workers to fill the position you’re being hired for. This process usually takes around eight months, so be sure to start the process long before your L-1B status expires. 

What are the benefits of holding an L-1B visa?

Foreign workers on L-1 status can enjoy the following benefits:

  • Dual intent. You can apply for permanent residency in the U.S. without putting your L-1 status on the line
  • Immediate family can accompany the L-1 visa holder. As an L-1B or L-1A visa holder, your spouse and unmarried kids can accompany you to the U.S. on L-2 visas.
  • No quota limit. Unlike other nonimmigrant work visas like the H-1B, there is no quota on the number of L-1B visas that are issued annually. L-1B visa applications can also be filed any time of the year and are available for premium processing, which guarantees the petition to be processed within 15 calendar days

Multinational companies petitioning L-1B visas on behalf of their foreign employees also enjoy some benefits, such as: 

  • Blanket petition - This allows companies to file a single L-1 visa petition for multiple employees
  • Ability to establish new offices in the U.S. - Multinational companies that don’t have an office or affiliate in the U.S. can use the L-1B visa to send their employee to establish one

Drawbacks and restrictions of L-1B visa

Perhaps the biggest drawback of the L-1B is the five-year maximum stay period allowed to visa holders. Fortunately, you can still apply for a change of visa status before your current L-1B status expires. Another core restriction is that the visa holder must only work for the petitioning employer — this means you can’t work at a part-time job or switch to a new employer while on L-1 status.

The takeaway

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-1B 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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Nova Credit currently connects to international credit bureaus in Australia, Brazil, Canada, India, Mexico, Nigeria, South Korea and the United Kingdom.

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