Comparing the L-1 Visa to Other Visa Categories

The L-1 visa serves to facilitate international companies seeking to transfer their foreign employees to U.S. offices. An overview of the benefits associated with the L visa category appears below.

Snapshot: L Visa Benefits

Condition on Beneficiary

Required or Allowed by the L Visa?

Maintain foreign residence during U.S. stay


Eligible to seek permanent residency

Bring dependent spouses and children with them to the U.S.

Dependents (i.e. L-2 holders) able to work with an Employment Authorization Document (EAD)

In addition to the brief rundown of benefits tabulated above, the L-1 has a number of other advantages. It’s often most helpful to point out the pros of any subject by way of a comparison with similar subjects. Accordingly, in this article, we’ll compare the L-1 visa to other visa categories in the hope that this information can help you decide which visa category best suits your needs.

Does the L-1 have what it takes to beat out its visa competitors? Don’t forget to crosscheck the information below with the L-1 requirements, described in detail here.

L-1 vs. E-1

Like the L-1, the E-1 visa is an employment-based, nonimmigrant classification that is frequently used by small businesses seeking to transfer owners or employees to the U.S.

There’s a crucial distinction, however: the E-1 is designed exclusively for treaty traders or treaty investors who come to the United States to engage in trade between the U.S. and the country in which they are employed. The three main conditions E-1 holders must meet are:

  1. A treaty must exist between the United States and the foreign country under whose treaty the E status is sought; and

  2. Majority ownership or control of the investing or trading company must be held by nationals of the foreign country under whose treaty the E status is sought;

  3. Each employee or principal of the company who is seeking E status pursuant to the treaty must hold citizenship in the country under whose treaty the status is sought.

There are presently few countries that have entered into such treaties with the United States. (If you’d like to see the list, it’s available here.) Consequently, the E visa is not available to people from most countries. Depending on where you’re from and what sort of business you’re engaged in, the L-1 might be the better option.

E-1 holders are permitted to stay in the U.S. with unlimited two-year extensions of their E status, provided they continue to meet the visa’s qualifications and continue to manifest nonimmigrant intent. Further, their dependents are allowed to accompany them, and their spouses can work in the U.S.

For more information on the E-1 visa, click here.

L-1 vs. B-1

The B-1 visa is a temporary business visitor classification used by aliens coming to the United States for short business trips on behalf of an overseas employer. Generally speaking, a B-1 can be used for business activities such as opening bank accounts, signing contracts, and the like. In order to obtain a B-1, aliens must demonstrate the following:

  • The purpose of their trip is to enter the United States for business of a legitimate nature.
  • They plan to remain for a specific, limited period of time.
  • They have the funds to cover the expenses of their trip and stay in the United States.
  • They have a residence outside of the United States that they have no intention of abandoning, in addition to other binding ties that ensure their return at the end of their visit.
  • They are otherwise admissible to the U.S.

Like the L-1, the B-1 may be particularly helpful during the early stages of setting up a new business in the U.S.

However, there are downsides to the B-1 visa category that might make an L-1 visa more attractive, particularly for employers and especially if the alien worker has to stay in the country for an extended period of time.

Technically, the duration of authorized stay for a B-1 holder is up to six months, with a possible extension of stay of up to another six months. The duration of stay is decided by an immigration officer at the time of the visa holder’s entry into the country. In reality, most B-1 visas are approved for less than six months at a time and only in rare circumstances would a period of entry exceeding six months be granted. As the B-1 visa is a temporary business visitor visa, the visa holder cannot legally work in the United States. And so, unless another type of status with explicit employment authorization is obtained, B-1 holders cannot work; in fact, working under B-1 is a violation of status. This means that when business activity has advanced to such a degree that it constitutes employment, the B-1 holder will be at risk of invalidating his or her status.

B-1 holders are able change their status to another nonimmigrant status, such as an H-1 or B-2 visa, but it is important to note that they should be cautious when doing so, especially if they apply for a change of status shortly after their entry into the U.S. with a B-1 visa. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) considers the act of using the B-1 as a stepping stone to a different nonimmigrant status solely for the purpose of avoiding the more stringent application procedures associated with the new status to be improper and fraudulent. Serious ramifications, including the possibility of deportation, may result. This is another reason why, if nonimmigrant workers wish to stay in the U.S. or if their employers need them to be in the country for an extended period of time, the better visa option may be the L-1.

For more information on the B-1 visa, click here.

L-1 vs. H-1B

The H-1B visa is a nonimmigrant visa category designed to allow U.S. employers to recruit highly specialized foreign employees to live and work in the U.S. for a specified duration of time. An H-1B is very similar to an L-1B in many respects, such as the petition procedure (like the L-1, an H-1B petition is filed by the employer on behalf of an employee). Moreover, just like the L-1, the H-1B is a dual intent visa, meaning that holders of this status can petition for permanent residency without jeopardizing their H-1B status or their visa applications at U.S. consulates abroad.

The major difference between the two categories is that the employment privilege granted to an L-1B holder, in theory, cannot be substituted by a U.S. worker. Under an H-1B, the employer must guarantee that its specialized alien worker is receiving the prevailing wage for the associated job position in the geographic area of employment. Since an L-1 holder is in the U.S. on behalf of foreign qualifying entities, an L visa holder is not required to be paid the prevailing wage for the position he or she assumes. Furthermore, the H-1B is subject to an annual quota and requires a minimum of a bachelor’s degree. In contrast, an L holder does not need a degree, nor are L-1B visa holders subject to an annual quota. Congress has set no limits on the number of L-1B visas that can be approved every year. This is a clear advantage to the H-1B visa, as prospective L-1B beneficiaries won’t be denied an L-1B solely because a cap has been reached.

For more information on the H-1B visa, click here.

L-1 vs. EB-1C

There’s actually no “conflict” between these two visa types. One of the principal benefits of the L-1A visa specifically is that it provides a straightforward path to permanent residency through the EB-1C visa.

The EB-1C is an employment-based, first-preference visa classification created specifically for managers and executives who meet L-1 standards and are interested in becoming lawful permanent residents. These aliens are considered "priority workers," and the U.S. government allows 40,000 EB-1 immigrant visas to be allotted every year. Although having been in L-1A status is not a prerequisite for this category, if an alien has had prior L-1A status and a permanent qualifying EB-1C job position in the U.S., he or she will have a stronger case for an EB-1C petition.

Converting to an EB-1C visa from an L-1B can present more of a challenge, but is not impossible. “Specialized” workers who are the beneficiaries of L-1B are often not, but can be, in executive or managerial roles in their companies. If so, the process to transition from an L-1B to an EB-1C is much more straightforward.

Which visa is right for me?

The answer is up to you to decide, and it hinges on your needs and preferences.

Of course, the experienced immigration attorneys at Zhang & Associates are available to help you navigate the potential immigration pathways forward. Our team of seasoned professionals is here to offer you expert guidance in selecting the visa best for you. Contact us today for a free evaluation.

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

Updated 05/18/2017