L-1 Visa: Nonimmigrant Managers, Executives, and “Specialized Knowledge” Workers Employed by Foreign Businesses

In our globalized world, corporations often need a physical presence in countries around the world. Companies from countries with promising business climates like China, India, and South Korea, often seek to expand their activities into new countries, including the United States. This fact of international business means that they have to employ talent from a range of backgrounds. For a company to ensure the uniformity of its products and services and to preserve its brand across far-flung markets, its employees, regardless as to where they reside, must understand the company’s principles and objectives, and be experienced with its day-to-day operations. To these ends, international companies often move employees from one location to another for training and other work-related purposes. Fortunately for them, the L-1 visa category facilitates the process of relocating qualified foreign employees to the United States.

In general terms, L-1 is a temporary nonimmigrant status for foreign employees of companies with offices in the U.S. and abroad. Qualifying aliens, who are the beneficiaries of L-1 applications, must be employees who have worked for a subsidiary, parent, affiliate, or branch office of the company for at least one year of the three years prior to filing an L-1 petition. Qualifying businesses, which are the sponsoring petitioners, must be a parent company, child company, or sister company of the foreign company. The L-1 category may be used by nonprofit, religious, and charitable organizations, in addition to for-profit multinational companies.

In this article, we introduce the L-1 program and start delving into its requirements (the in-depth version of which can be found here).

Who is it for?

The L-1 program is best suited to larger companies to bring executives, managers, or employees with specialized knowledge from a foreign branch to their U.S. branches.
In many cases, larger companies have international rotation policies for managerial personnel to assure that all key employees have equal opportunities for career advancement when a coveted position opens up at any location around the world. More than career advancement are the benefits that redound to the company institutionally. Cross-fertilization of ideas among high-level employees and executives enhances their company’s competitiveness and fosters an exchange resulting in innovation, which is essential to the company's reputation and development. A regular rotation of key personnel also improves and ensures uniformity of services and processes within the company at a global level.

Whatever the case may be, the L program is specifically designed to facilitate the needs of intra-company transfers between countries. Let’s take a look at the two L-1 classifications: L-1A and L-1B.

L-1A: Intracompany Transferee—Executive or Manager

The L-1A classification is designed for intra-company executive and managerial transferees relocating to the United States. L-1A holders must have been continuously employed in an executive or managerial capacity for the foreign company at an overseas location for at least one year of the three years preceding filing. In addition, this subtype of the L-1 visa allows a company currently lacking a U.S. office to send an executive or manager to the United States in order to establish one. The L-1A is granted initially for one year for a new company in the U.S. or three years for a U.S. company with more than one year in existence, with extensions available in two-year increments and a total stay not to exceed seven years. (For additional information on the L-1A subtype, refer to this page.)

L-1B: Intracompany Transferee—Specialized Knowledge

The L-1B classification is designed for professional employees with specialized knowledge of a company or industry. An example of an employee with specialized knowledge would be one with proprietary knowledge about a company's product who needs to travel to the U.S. to impart his or her specialized knowledge to new U.S. employees. As with an L-1A, companies that do not currently have an office in the United States can use the L-1B to transfer an employee with specialized knowledge to help establish one. The L-1B is issued initially for three years, with one two-year extension for a maximum stay of five years. (For additional information on the L-1B subtype, refer to this page.)

For both the L-1A and L-1B, the U.S. company where the transferee will work and the foreign company where the transferee previously worked must be related in a specific way, such as through a parent-subsidiary relationship. We delve into what constitutes an L-1 qualifying business entity here.

Get Cozy under the L-1 Blanket

USCIS has established a special application process for large multinational organizations that frequently use the L-1 category, allowing them to file what’s called an L-1 “blanket petition.” Under this program, an approved company needs to obtain approval from USCIS only once to transfer multiple managerial, executive, and professional employees. This allowance permits companies to relocate employees to the U.S. more quickly and efficiently, without the need to file multiple, time-consuming petitions. We delve into the L-1 blanket here.

Additional Aspects of the L-1

Still have work to do abroad?

L-1 holders do not need to stay in the United States in order to maintain L status. Even though the L-1 holder must be employed on a full-time basis with the company, a foreign worker does not necessarily have to be physically present in the U.S. for a continuous period of time. Aliens are allowed to divide work between the U.S. and their home countries. Accordingly, an L-1 holder can be principally employed outside of the U.S. and still receive an L-1 to come to the U.S. to work on a short-term basis. That said, if the alien’s sole purpose in coming to the U.S. is to confer with officials, attend meetings and conferences, or participate in training, the alien should consider applying for a B-1 business visa instead, as these activities are not considered to be done for “a significant portion of time on a regular and systematic basis,” as the L-1 visa demands.

Married with Children?

If you have been granted an L-1 but (obviously) don’t want to leave behind your spouse and children, you can take them with you to live in the U.S. Spouses and unmarried children under the age of 21 are eligible to apply for L-2 visas, which will allow them to live in the U.S. for the duration of the L-1 holder’s stay. Moreover, L-2 holders can apply for work authorization with USCIS, which will allow them to work in the U.S. without restrictions.

Going Green?

One of the privileges of the L-1, as opposed to many other nonimmigrant visas, is that it is dual intent. In other words, an L-1 holder may apply for a green card and become a permanent resident without jeopardizing his or her L-1 status or visa applications from a U.S. consular office abroad. Another advantage is that visa numbers are almost always current if a previous L-1 holder applies for a green card by way of an EB-1C visa. Doing so translates to less time that the L-1 holder will have to wait for visa numbers to become available in order to apply for an adjustment of status via Form I-485 and receive a green card.

Life After L-1

After completing the maximum allowable period of stay in the U.S., an L-1 holder must leave the country for a minimum of one year and must work for a foreign operation of the U.S. company before becoming eligible to re-apply for an L visa.

For more information on the L-1 category, refer to the following links:

Updated 05/18/2017