H1B Visa or L1: Which is Better?
For non-US nationals to come to the US to work in skilled roles, the most common temporary visas are the L-1 visa and the H1-B visa. For the US employer and the individual alike, it will be important to understand and assess, out of the H1b visa or the L1, which is better and most appropriate as an immigration route.
In this article, we highlight the differences and similarities between these two temporary, skilled worker routes to help you determine which route best suits your needs.
H1-B & L-1 Visa Requirements: Education & qualifications
The H1-B route is typically subject to stricter rules regarding education than the L-1 visa insofar as the applicant’s qualifications and work experience should relate to the visa role.
For the H-1B visa, the requirement is that applicants hold a bachelor’s degree or higher qualification, as well as having specialized knowledge in their specific professional field, and this must be directly relevant to the H1-B role. In some circumstances, relevant work experience could be relied on as a substitute for a degree, but again the experience must correspond to the profession or area of expertise of the H-1B job.
The L-1 visa, however, does not stipulate educational requirements such as requirements for a degree.
H1-B & L-1 Visa Requirements: Role
The H1-B visa can offer more flexibility for visa holders than the L1 route in terms of the job and work they are permitted to do while in the US.
The L-1 visa requires the applicant to be in an executive or managerial role, or to possess specialized knowledge specific to the organization. This requirement is heavily scrutinized by visa adjudicators and applicants are advised to prepare substantial and compelling evidence to support eligbility under this criteria.
The H1-B visa holder, however, can generally undertake a broader range of duties, provided the role qualifies as a speciality occupation and that the position relates to the applicant’s work experience and qualifications.
H1-B & L-1 Visa Requirements: Employer eligibility
The L1 visa is open only to international organisations. It allows employers to transfer employees from overseas to a branch, subsidiary or office of the same company in the US.
To be eligible, the employee must have been employed as a manager, executive, or specialized knowledge worker by an overseas subsidiary, parent, affiliate or branch office of the US company they are transferring to for at least 12 months of the three years immediately preceding the date of application.
It is not possible to transfer to a different company under the same L1 visa. The employee would need to secure new, appropriate status to remain and work lawfully in the US.
Only US-based companies can sponsor foreign nationals under the H1-B visa route. If granted, the visa is valid only in relation to sponsorship by that specific employer. If the H1-B worker finds a new job with a new employer, their visa would no longer be valid. To maintain their lawful status in the US, they would need to file for a new H1-B visa with their new employer as sponsor, or consider alternative visa options that may be available.
H1-B & L-1 Visa Requirements: Duration of stay
There is not a vast amount of difference in the visa durations.
The L-1A visa, for example, permits an initial stay of up to 3 years. The visa holder may apply to extend this period for a total maximum duration of 7 years. The L-1B, however, permits up to a total maximum period of 5 years, including the initial three-year grant.
With both the L1A and L1B visas, where the employee is transferring to open a new US branch, the period of leave is only one year. The H1B visa also allows an initial three-year stay. This is extendable to 6 years, where a successful application is made.
Any time spent in the US under the H1B visa will be counted towards any L1 visa maximum period, and vice versa for L1 visa stays counting towards subsequent H1B maximum period.
H1-B & L-1 Visa Requirements: visa cap
The L1 visa route is not subject to any cap or annual limit on the number that can be issued. The H1B, however, is restricted to 65,000 per year, and 20,000 for those with a Master’s degree and higher.
For successive years, the H1B has been oversubscribed, and the so-called H1B lottery is used to determine which applications will be processed and considered. Petitions should be filed in the H1B visa window, typically in the first few days of April. H1B visas that are successful through petitioning cannot, however, take effect under the following 1 October.
H1-B & L-1 Visa Requirements: Department of Labor Certification
The H1B petition process requires the employer to file a Labor Condition Application to confirm the visa holder will be paid at or above the prevailing wage rate and that there are no US-resident workers qualified and available to fill the role.
With the L-1 visa, however, there is no LCA requirement.
H1-B & L-1 Visa Requirements: Dependants
Under the L1 visa, the principal visa holder can be accompanied by their spouse and minor children under the L-2 visa. Further, with an L-2 visa, holders can apply for work authorization in the US.
The H-4 visa is for dependants (spouse and minor children) of H-1B visa holders.
H1-B & L-1 Visa Requirements: Green Card eligibility
Under both the L1 and H1B visas, foreign nationals can become eligible for US permanent residence (Green Card). When applying for either visa, applicants will not have to evidence either substantial ties to their country of residence or their intention to leave the US on visa expiry, nor can their visa petitions be denied on these grounds.
For L1 visa and H1B visa holders to apply for a Green Card, they will need to file for an Adjustment of Status. There are a number of potential Green Card routes to consider, such as the EB-1C for L1 visa holders, or categories EB1, EB2, or EB3 for H-1B visa holders.
H1-B & L-1 Visa Requirements: Prevailing wage
The H1-B visa petition has to show that the applicant will be paid, as a minimum, the highest of either the relevant prevailing wage rate or actual wage rate for the role in question. L-1 visas, however, are not subject to the prevailing wage requirement.
H1-B & L-1 Visa Requirements: Frequent transfers
For multinational organizations transferring employees to the US on a regular basis, the Blanket L offers a convenient way to fast-track petitioning. Only eligible companies can take advantage of the Blanket L, specifically, those who can show at least 10 L-1 approvals during the previous one year, or those with US subsidiaries or affiliates with a combined $25 million in revenue or with at least 1000 employees in the US. The H1-B offers not equivalent fast-track option for employers hiring skilled foreign workers.
H1-B & L-1 Visa Requirements: Employment stipulations
The H1-B allows foreign workers to take up employment in the US with an entirely new employer and company, whereas a key requirement of the L-1 visa is that the applicant has worked for the multinational employer for at least one consecutive year during the three years immediately before the date of the application. L-1 visa holders are also strictly limited to working only for their petitioning employer once in the US.
The H1-B, however, allows for applicants to file petitions in respect of multiple roles for different prospective employers and to apply to transfer their status to a new qualifying sponsor (employer) once in the US.
Do you have a question about a US work visa? NNU can help!
Opting for the right visa for your needs will be critical when making a move to the US. Whether the H1-B visa or the L1 is better for you will depend on your circumstances, whether you meet the eligibility requirements and if any of the visa restrictions render the route unsuitable for your needs.
If looking at a temporary transfer to work in the US, the L1 or the H1B could be appropriate depending on your circumstances. While the L-1 is only open to those that work for multinational companies, the H-1B offers more flexibility for individuals to change jobs and employers while in the US.
While the L1 visa and H1B tend to be the most well-known temporary work visas, other options may be available depending on your circumstances. For example, the E-1 visa offers a route where the business in question is an established trading partner with the US looking to further this position from within the US, or it may be that the B-1 business visitor visa satisfies your needs if you will be staying for a shorter period to conduct certain types of business-related activity.
At NNU Immigration, we specialise in all US visa categories, advising employers and visa applicants on the options available and providing guidance on how to compile and submit a compelling application.
If you have a question about a US visa application, contact us.
This article does not constitute direct legal advice and is for informational purposes only.