The L-1 visa program for multinational intra-company transferees shares certain common characteristics with the E visa program for treaty traders and investors that might cause confusion. However, it is important to understand the requirements for each visa as there are significant differences between the two.
Please visit the respective L-1 and E-1/E-2 web pages for more detailed information on both visas beyond what is provided in this article.
Both L-1 and E visas are used by aliens who are seeking to work in the United States for business-related reasons. In the case of L-1, a United States employer petitions on behalf of an alien employee of an overseas parent, branch, subsidiary or affiliate of their company. This employee must have been employed with that parent, branch, subsidiary or affiliate in an executive, managerial, or specialized knowledge position prior to coming to the United States. An L-1 worker can come from any foreign country so long as they meet the specific L-1 requirements. In comparison, employees of treaty traders and investors seeking an E-1 or E-2 must be employed in an executive, supervisory, or specialized knowledge position, just as an L-1 would.
However there are key differences between the qualifications for L-1 and E-1/E-2. For E visas, foreign business owners, business managers, and employees of treaty traders and investors may come to the United States to oversee or work for an enterprise that is engaged in trade with the United States or who have a substantial investment in the United States. This first obvious difference is the requirement that their company be engaged in trade with the United States or that they have substantial investments. This is not a requirement for L-1, since, in order for companies to qualify, they must simply be a parent, branch, subsidiary, or affiliate of a United States company. L-1 employees often come to the United States to open up or oversee a branch of their company in the United States. There is no specified requirement for any trade or investment as there is for E-1/E-2.
Secondly, the E visa program originated from treaty requirements between the U.S. and certain foreign countries. Each country must provide for reciprocal benefits for those who conduct trade with or invest in the other country. As such, E-1/E-2 are only available to nationals of those countries where a bilateral investment treaty or treaty of commerce and navigation exist. There is no such requirement for L-1, where theoretically any company from any country could qualify.
A second major difference between L-1 and E-1/E-2 are the time limitations for each status. The maximum period of stay for an E-1 or E-2 is much more flexible than the max time period for an L-1. There are two different kinds of L-1 visas: L-1A for executive and managerial transferees and L-1B for employees with specialized knowledge. L-1A visas are issued initially for one year for a new company in the U.S. or three years for a U.S. company which has been in existence for more than one year. Extensions for L-1A beyond the initial period of stay are available in two-year increments for a total stay not to exceed seven years. Alternatively, L-1B visas are issued initially for three years with the option for one two-year extension, meaning the maximum period of stay is five years. Once an L-1A or L-1B holder has reached their maximum allowable period, they must leave the United States for a minimum of one year and must work for a foreign operation of the U.S. company before they are eligible to reapply for another L visa.
By contrast, an E-1 or E-2 status holder is granted an initial period of stay of up to two years. Extensions of stay can be granted by the USCIS for increments of up to 2 years. There is no limit on how many times an E visa holder can extend their stay, so theoretically they could legally remain in the U.S. on E-1 or E-2 status indefinitely. Extensions are granted as long as the E status holder declares that they will depart the United States when the period of authorized stay (including extensions) terminates.
L-1(a) status provides a relatively easy pathway to permanent resident status, compared to many other employment based non-immigrant statuses. Since the L-1 visa is a dual intent visa, any L-1 status holder may apply for permanent resident status at any time in period of legal stay (including immediately upon entry to the United States) without worrying about preconceived intent issues. In addition to being dual intent, a specific employment based immigrant preference category (EB-1C) was created for executives and managers that meet the L-1A standards and are interested in gaining lawful permanent resident status. Although L-1 status is not a prerequisite for immigrant benefits in this category, it provides a stronger case when the beneficiary was in an L visa category previously. Many L-1A holders are able to smoothly transition into an EB-1C permanent resident status. For more information on the specific requirements for gaining an EB-1C visa, please click here.
On the other hand, the path to permanent resident status from E-1 or E-2 is not as easy as from L-1. Since E visas are not dual intent, consular officers or the USCIS want to make sure E visa holders do not actually intend to enter the U.S. permanently. If a non-immigrant on an E visa attempted to apply for an immigration petition soon after their arrival in the United States, their application would be considered fraudulent or based on preconceived intent and be denied. An E-1 or E-2 visa holder, when applying for extensions of status, must prove to the USCIS that they intend to depart the United States when their legal status ends.
Both E and L visas may be used by companies to expand their business in the United States. However, there are differences between what kinds of companies use what kind of visa. Generally, E visas are mainly used by small business while L-1 visas are used by all types of businesses- big, medium, and small. Although there is a minimum threshold for the amount of capital invested in the United States by the foreign company applying for an E visa, generally the visa is sought by smaller companies seeking to send employees to help grow their business. However, while an L-1 visa can most certainly be used by small companies to send employees to the United States to start a new branch office, it is also commonly used by large, international companies who may want to rotate executives or managers through their international offices. There is also much less necessary documentation for large companies applying for L-1 visas, as if the company is well known the USCIS will not scrutinize their application as much as they would a smaller company.
In some instances the application process for both L-1 visas and E visas are nearly identical. When initially applying for the visa, both L-1s and E-1/E2s can either apply at a U.S. consulate abroad or on an I-129 form with the USCIS (if they are already present in the United States). When changing status or applying for an extension of status, again both L-1 and E visa holders will apply on an I-129 form with the USCIS. The major difference, however, is at their initial visa application. For an L-1 visa application, whether or not the beneficiary is applying at a consulate abroad or is changing status from within the United States, their employer must send an L petition to the USCIS. Only once the USCIS has approved the application may the beneficiary proceed to the consulate to obtain their visa. By contrast, an E-1/E-2 visa applicant may simply apply with the Department of State at a consulate, without a separate USCIS application of I-129.
Although at first glance they may be easy to confused, as we have outlined above there are several key differences between L-1 and E-1/E-2 visas that are important to keep in mind. There are many different options available to foreign businesses, employees, and investors who wish to come to the United States to grow their companies. Depending on a company’s needs, L-1 or E-2/E-2 could be the correct choice. Zhang and Attorneys can help you determine which visa is right for your situation. Please visit our Free Evaluation page for more information on how to contact us. For more information about L-1, please click here. For more information about E visa, please click here.
For more information on L visa, please refer to the following links:
For more information on the E-1, E-2 category, please click one of the following links: