How Long Does an L1 Visa Take?
If you work for an international company and your employer has offered you a job in the United States, you will need to know how to apply for an L1 intra-company transfer visa and how long this will take. After all, your stateside job is waiting for you.
The following guidance on the standard and premium timeframes for L1 visa applications will stand you in good stead when deciding when to submit your application and how far you will need to plan ahead.
How long does an L1 visa take: The types of L1 visa
There are two types of L1 visa, the L1A for employees who hold an executive or managerial role, or L1B employees who have specialised knowledge of the company’s products, services, techniques, policies or procedures.
In either case the L1 visa will allow an international company to transfer key professional employees from one of its overseas offices into a parent, branch, affiliate or subsidiary of the same company in the U.S. or, alternatively, to set up a new office.
To be eligible for an L1 visa you must have worked for the company in an executive or managerial capacity, or as a specialised knowledge employee, for a full year out of the previous three years, and be seeking to enter the U.S. to undertake work in a similar capacity.
How long does an L1 visa take: The petition process
There are two stages in obtaining an L1 visa, namely filing a petition and the visa application itself. First, your employer will need to file and submit the petition on your behalf using Form I-129 or, where they have already filed a blanket petition, using Form I-129S.
If your employer is especially large it may have established the required intra-company relationship by having previously filed a blanket petition with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).
Although the approval of a blanket L petition by USCIS does not guarantee that an employee will be granted an L1 visa, it does provide an employer with the flexibility to transfer eligible employees to the U.S. quickly and at short notice.
A blanket petition will often be used where a company has identified several key personnel to transfer to a U.S. affiliated office, or where it is anticipated that the company will continue to send key personnel to work in the States over the next few years.
In the absence of a previously approved blanket L petition, extensive and detailed documentation will need to be filed by your petitioning employer which, in itself, could significantly delay the process.
How long does an L1 visa take: The use of premium processing
Form I-129 should be filed by your U.S. employer at least 45 days before your start date, but no more than 6 months before your employment begins.
Once your petition is filed, the processing time is usually between 30 to 90 days. However, your U.S. employer can opt to pay an additional fee to expedite the processing time to within 15 days of receipt.
Without the speed of premium processing, in some instances it can take up to 6 months for USCIS to process your L1 petition.
How long does an L1 visa take: The visa application process
Once the petition has been approved by USCIS, you can submit your online L1 visa application to the Department of State using Form DS-160.
Having submitted your application you will be required to attend an interview at your local U.S. Embassy.
You will need to provide detailed documentation in support of your application including, but not limited to, information pertaining to your role within the company, or the level of your knowledge, skill and experience.
To satisfy the “specialised knowledge” requirement you must demonstrate that your knowledge is not commonplace either within the industry or within the company that you work for, as such making you vital to the overall functioning and competitiveness of the business.
Based on the paperwork submitted and the answers given to the consular officer during interview, you will be told at the conclusion of that interview whether your application has been approved, denied, or if further documentation is required.
How long does an L1 visa take: The factors affecting processing
Various factors can influence consular-processing times, in particular in relation to the U.S. embassy to whom you make your application.
Prior to completing and submitting your online form you can contact the U.S. Embassy in question, or visit their website, for specific guidance as to their own processing times. These may also vary throughout the course of the year and the amount of any backlog.
However, in some cases, even where the turnaround time is relatively quick, delay can still occur on a case-by-case basis, not least because the quality of an application is poor, the documentation provided in support is incomplete, or the applicant has failed to provide sufficient detail during the course of interview.
In circumstances where the interviewing consular officer is not satisfied that an applicant has provided all the necessary information, this commonly results in L visa applications being delayed or, even worse, completely denied.
How long does an L1 visa take: Improving your prospects
You can significantly improve the consular processing time for your L1 visa application by ensuring that you provide the correct documentation in support. That said, the documentary requirements are extensive and it is always best to seek legal advice to avoid causing any unnecessary delay.
In determining your eligibility for an L1 visa, you will also be asked detailed questions during interview by a consular officer in relation to the company that you work for and your role within that organisation.
It is always advisable to answer questions as fully as possible to ensure that your application is not deemed incomplete, and in this way avoid any delays caused by further requests for information.
How long does an L1 visa take: The duration of your visa
If you a professional employee transferring to a U.S. affiliated office, your L1 visa will initially be granted for a period of three years. For an employee looking to open up a new office, the initial period will be for just one year.
However, in either case, and subject to meeting the ongoing qualifying criteria, you will be able to extend your L1 visa to remain in the U.S for up to 7 years in an executive or managerial role, or 5 years as a specialised knowledge employee.
In some instances it may be possible to transfer from an L1B to an L1A visa. You may also be eligible to apply for permanent residency whilst in the U.S under the EB1C immigrant visa route.
How long does an L1 visa take: The benefits of legal advice
The application process for an L1 visa can often be complicated and drawn out, not least where your employer is required to file an individual petition on your behalf.
An expert in immigration law can guide you through the petition and application process, from start to finish, speeding up the process by getting the paperwork right first time round and prepping you for that all important consular interview.
In this way, you can feel reassured that you will be able to start your new job in the U.S. in the shortest timeframe possible.
Do you have a question about how long an L-1 Visa takes?
NNU Immigration specializes in the L1 visa route including the Blanket L visa petitions on behalf of companies. Our US immigration attorneys have the experience and expertise to meet the onerous and complex L visa application process, including guidance with gathering the supporting documentation.
We also advise on all aspects of the L1 visa for the individual employees, from assessing eligibility, to support with compiling petitions and all required documentation. We can also provide guidance and consideration of alternative US entry routes where required.
Contact us for advice with your L-1 visa application.
This article does not constitute direct legal advice and is for informational purposes only.