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Updated: August 19, 2014

The ‘L-1’ visa for intracompany transferees is one of the visas most often used for businesspeople who wish either to work in the United States temporarily or to settle there permanently.

Basic Requirements
The L-1A visa requires that the applicant have been employed outside the United States for one continuous year in the previous three years, in a position that is managerial, executive, or requires the use of specialized knowledge, and that the applicant be transferring to a position (either managerial or executive) in the United States for the same or affiliated company. The L-1A visa, with extensions, allows for a maximum stay of 7 years in the United States.

The L-1B visa requires that the applicant have been employed outside the United States for one continuous year in the previous three years, in a position that is managerial, executive, or requires the use of specialized knowledge, and that he be transferring to a position (one requiring specialized knowledge) in the United States for the same or affiliated company. The L-1B visa, with extensions, allows for a maximum stay of 5 years in the United States.

In order to qualify for the L-1 visa the non-US employer and the prospective employer in the US must be related in one of the four ways allowed by the regulations.

First option: The two employers could be parent and subsidiary. It makes no difference which employer (US or non-US) is the parent, and which the subsidiary.

Second: One of the employers could be the branch office of the other. Again, the US employer may be either the headquarters or the branch office.

Third: The businesses could be sister companies—that is, they could be owned by a mutual parent.

Fourth: The companies could be affiliates, both owned by the same person or by the same group of people. If the companies are owned by a group of individuals each person in the group must have approximately the same percentage ownership of the US as of the non-US company.

Finally: In order to qualify for the L-1 visa the applicant must show that the non-US business will continue to actively trade (to be ‘doing business,’ in the words of the regulation), either on its own or through a parent, subsidiary, branch, sister company or affiliate, during the applicant’s stay in L-1 status. This can be difficult to prove if the non-US operation does not have many employees or if it is dependent on the activities of the very manager or executive hoping to move to the United States. In some cases it may be necessary to postpone a visa petition until staff can be trained or other provision made to ensure that the business can continue to operate in the home country whilst the visa applicant works in the US.

The Petition Procedure

In order to obtain an L-1 visa (either L-1A or L-1B) one must first file a petition with the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (‘USCIS’), either the Vermont Service Center or the California Service Center, seeking a determination that the applicant qualifies for L status. The USCIS charges a filing fee of $825.00 for each new L petition, and $325.00 for a petition seeking an extension of an existing L.

The time needed by a Service Centers to process an L petition can vary greatly depending on the Center’s current workload and priorities. Current processing times may be found on the USCIS website.

The USCIS portion of the processing time can be shortened by payment of an additional fee to the government. To take part in the ‘Premium Processing Service’ scheme one pays the USCIS a fee of $1225.00 (in addition to the standard filing fee of either $325.00 or $825.00) and one is guaranteed a response from the USCIS within 15 calendar days of the receipt of the petition. The response need not be an approval notice; it could be a request for additional evidence. If the USCIS does not meet the 15-day deadline the $1225.00 is refunded.

Applying for the Visa
Once the USCIS approves the petition an approval notice is sent to the petitioner and/or petitioner’s representative. The beneficiary and any accompanying eligible family members may then apply to the appropriate US Embassy for issuance of the corresponding visas. Nearly all visa applicants between the ages of 14 and 79 (with certain limited exceptions) must now appear at the Embassy, have a brief interview with a consular officer and give finger scans--inkless digital finger prints.

Here in London if at the interview the consular officer approves the application, the applicant’s passport is taken for visa issuance purposes and for routine applications returned via the Embassy’s courier service DX Secure in approximately three to five working days. This three- to five- working day period is the only time in the petition and application process during which an applicant is without his or her passport.

Your Stay in the United States
For UK citizens L-1 visas are typically issued for a period of five years, even though the underlying approval notice will not be valid for that length of time.  In order to continue to use the visa past the expiry of the approval notice an extension of the period of authorised stay must be obtained from the USCIS.  Extensions are available, in two-year increments, upon petition to the USCIS, and subject to the maximum stays of five or seven years, as mentioned above.

The L-1 visa, unlike most other visa types, offers a significant benefit to the L-2 spouse, in the form of an unrestricted employment authorization document (‘EAD’), better known as a work permit. The L-2 spouse may apply for the EAD after arrival in the US in L-2 status. Information about the EAD application process can be found in our website article Work Permits: An Overview.    Once the spouse has applied for and received the EAD he or she may lawfully accept employment and change jobs freely during the EAD’s validity without the need for additional approvals from the USCIS. 

Permanent Residence
A person who has served as either a manager or executive outside the US for at least one continuous year and who then is transferred to a managerial or executive position for a qualifying company in the US may be sponsored by the US employer for lawful permanent residence (a ‘green card’) as a ‘multinational executive or manager’.   For additional detail please see our website article Multinational Executives and Managers – EB-1-3.   The US employer must have been actively trading for one year before it is eligible to sponsor an employee for lawful permanent residence. Any eventual permanent residence would include not only the primary applicant and spouse, but all qualifying unmarried children and stepchildren who are under the age of 21 at the time the immigrant petition is filed.

If the employee fulfills the requirements of the multinational executive or manager category the green card application process may proceed without the need for a labor certification-that time-consuming and often tedious process requiring a test of the US labor market. In most cases a person who holds an L-1B visa will not qualify for this ‘fast track’ to a green card. However, a careful review of the facts is essential before one gives up the hope of bypassing labor certification, as sometimes alternative strategies can be used to achieve that goal.

Since the requirements for a green card as a multinational executive or manager are very similar to those for an L-1A nonimmigrant visa, many L-1A visa holders are able to progress to permanent residence in a relatively straightforward fashion. A petition for immigrant status would be filed with the relevant USCIS office for adjudication. The filing fee for an immigrant petition is currently $580.00; Premium Processing Service is not available to accelerate the processing of this type of immigrant petition. Once the petition is approved the beneficiary and qualifying family members proceed to obtain their green cards either through immigrant visa consular processing or by means of adjustment of status.

Conclusion
For qualifying businesspeople the procedures outlined above are attractive because they offer relatively quick, straightforward paths to temporary stays in the United States. In addition, multinational executives and managers will often qualify for an immigrant visa, enabling them to proceed from petition filing to immigrant visa and resultant green card within 18 to 24 months, bypassing labor certification.

This short article cannot possibly cover all permutations of the facts, and should not be relied upon as a substitute for legal advice tailored to the specifics of your situation. If you believe that legal advice would be helpful you should consult a qualified US immigration attorney. 

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