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.
There are two types of L1 visa, the L1A for employees who hold an executive or managerial role, or L1B employees who have specialized 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 US or to set up a new office.
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.
To be eligible for an L1 visa you must have worked for the company in an executive or managerial capacity, or as a specialized 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.
L1 visa processing times
The time it takes to get an L1 visa will depend on a number of factors, including the caseload of the center and consulate that will be processing the application, the country where you are applying from and whether you will be using the standard or premium processing service.
Standard L-1 visa processing usually takes between 6 to 12 months. This includes processing of the I-129 petition, which can take up to six months, and consulate processing which can be expected to take up to six months or longer.
If the employer is applying under a Blanket L, processing can be reduced to 1-3 weeks.
It is also possible to pay for expedited processing under USCIS’ premium processing service. For an additional fee of $2,500, USCIS will process the L-1 petition within 15 calendar days. To use premium processing, your employer should file form I-907 with the I-129 form.
Importantly, the 15-day period will be reset if you are sent a Request for Further Evidence (RFE). A new 15-day limit will apply once you have responded to the RFE. This makes it important that the application is comprehensive when submitted.
Prior to completing and submitting your online form you can contact the US Embassy in question, or visit their website, for specific guidance as to current processing times. These may also vary throughout the course of the year and whether there are any backlogs, for example due to pandemic service restrictions.
L1 visa application process
To avoid delays in the L1 visa processing, it helps to understand the L1 visa application 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 US 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.
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 US 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 “specialized 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.
Form I-129 should be filed by your US employer at least 45 days before your start date, but no more than 6 months before your employment begins.
How to avoid delays with your L1 visa application
There are a number of ways to reduce the risk of issues or delays with your L1 visa application.
You can significantly improve the processing time for your L1 visa application by ensuring that you provide the correct documentation in support.
The documentary requirements are extensive and it is advisable to seek legal advice to ensure you are submitting relevant and required information and documents to avoid unnecessary and avoidable delays.
In circumstances where the adjudicator is not satisfied that an applicant has provided all the necessary information, this commonly results in L visa applications being delayed or, even worse, denied.
Blanket L petitions
Your employer will need to qualify and have applied for the Blanket L to be able to benefit from expedited processing.
For an additional fee of $2500, your petition can be processed within 15 calendar days. Note that premium processing does not guarantee the petition will be accepted.
Prepare for your visa interview
In determining your eligibility for an L1 visa, you will also be asked detailed questions during the visa interview by a consular officer. The questions will cover areas such as your skills and qualifications, your travel history and your role within the organization, both in your home country and what your role will be while in the US.
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.
Remember that the adjudicator will need to understand why the employer cannot fill the role from the US domestic labor market and why you need to transfer to take on the role.
Can you travel to the US while the L1 visa petition is being processed?
You may be able to travel to the US as a visitor, either under the B-1 business visitor visa or with ESTA authorization under the Visa Waiver Program, but only where the reason for the visit falls within the list of permissible activities.
In many cases, it will be advantageous for the intracompany transferee to start work in the US as soon as possible. The L-1 visa application process, however, is not necessarily a swift process, with employers and employees advised to work a timeframe of 6 – 12 months for processing.
Ensuring the application is complete and comprehensive will help to avoid issues or delays in processing. A critical area of focus should be supporting documents to evidence your eligibility under the route.
NNU Immigration specialize in L1 visa applications. Our US immigration attorneys have the experience and expertise to meet the onerous and complex L visa application process. We work with employers and employees, advising on visa eligibility, the application process and compiling the supporting documentation.
Contact us for advice on your L-1 visa application.
This article does not constitute direct legal advice and is for informational purposes only.