How to Reduce L1 Visa Application Time
The L1 visa is attractive to multinational employers of all sizes and across market sectors. It offers non-US companies the ability to deploy key personnel to the USA on a temporary basis for work purposes.
Whether you are looking to establish a presence in the US, or if you are transferring multiple team members to lead on a key client account, the reason for transfer will usually be business or project-critical, making it important for employers to understand the timescales involved in petitioning for, and securing, the visa.
Under the current US administration, there has been heightened scrutiny of L1 petitions. Failure to provide a comprehensive submission can give cause for the adjudicator to delay the application and request further information from the applicant, or to reject the petition outright.
L1 visa processing times vary by consular post, depending on caseload, and by application, with more complex or incomplete petitions taking longer.
As the US government pursues policy that favors the US-resident workforce, for employers relying on the L-1 visa, this has caused considerable uncertainty in workforce and business planning. Petitioning companies and their employees are now required to do more than ever to establish eligibility under the L-1 route and to try and minimize L-1 visa processing times.
An L1 visa enables a company to send specialist employees or managers to the US.
L-1 visa application process
First, the employer files form I-129 with USCIS on behalf of the employee. This should be filed at least 45 days before the commencement of US employment and must not be filed more than six months before employment begins. The time this takes to process depends on the service centre that manages it. The average time is around six months.
When the petition from the employer has been approved, if applying to a US consulate for entry permission, the employee will need to make an appointment at a US consulate or embassy in their country of residence and attend a visa interview. If already in the US under a different visa category, the application will be for a change of status.
Taking this process into account, the average L1 visa application time can be between six months and a year, depending on the consulate or embassy the application is filed at and the quality and circumstances of the application.
L1 visa premium processing
The L1 premium processing service is available for a fee where an expedited decision is needed. This official USCIS service reduces the six-month processing time of the initial I-129 petition to just 15 days. The fee for this service is £1225 and the employer must file a Form I-907, Request for Premium Processing Service, along with their Form I-129. The USCIS is obligated to process the application in the 15 calendar days or your fee will be refunded.
Reducing application times
When the USCIS assess your application it will either be approved, rejected or in many cases they may send an RFE – a Request for Evidence. This will inevitably delay the application processing time.
Even where an application is being processed through the premium service, for the full benefit to be realized, applicants should ensure the petition is correct and comprehensive. In the event the adjudicator is unable to make a decision based on the information and supporting evidence provided, they may pause the premium processing and request further information on the application. Once the applicant has provided the additional documentation, the 15 day limit will start again.
Common reasons RFE’s are issued by the USCIS include:
- Insufficient evidence of the employees specialized knowledge and or/ an inadequate link to the company operations.
- The duties described in the job description do not align with similar managerial or executive positions in comparable US companies.
- The employer did not send an L1 business plan that sufficiently details the company structure and the expected growth for the future.
- There is a discrepancy between the finances of the business and the ability to support a new office and the salary of the L1 employee.
Before applying, it will be important to ensure the eligibility criteria are met.
There are two main categories of the L1 visa:
To qualify for the L1A visa the employee must supervise a team of employees in a main business function. An executive may qualify is they are shown to take major decisions in the company without input on a significant scale from superiors.
To qualify for an L1B visa the employee must be shown to be indispensable to the company as they have specialist knowledge vital to the success of the company’s product or systems.
As such, the employee must be required to fill an executive, managerial or specialized knowledge role in the US and have been employed outside the US by the same organization (either a parent, branch, affiliate or subsidiary), in an executive, managerial or specialized knowledge role for one out of the three years prior to the application being filed.
The eligibility of the applicant employee is solely based on assessment of the application and evidence by the USCIS officers looking at the application. Critical to any assessement of eligibility will be evidencing why the employee should be employed in the US and not a US-resident worker. The employer must meet a high bar in proving the specialist and relevant nature of the applicant’s professional experience, knowledge or skillset.
Provide compelling supporting documents
In the absence of a definitive or exhaustive list of L1 visa documents, employers should proceed with care when compiling the supporting documentation which will need to cover foreign company documents, US company documents and tranferee documents.
Particular scrutiny is currently being directed towards the role of the individual and the adjudicator will need substantial evidence as to why they shold be permitted to work in the US in favor of a resident worker. This will require detailed explanation of the employee’s duties, employment verification letter from the foreign company and documents showing either the transferee’s capability to conduct business in the executive position or, if applying on the basis of specialized knowledge, provide patent and trademark registrations by the applicant for the organization.
Pay the correct application fees
Another common error with US visa applications is that causes delays is where the incorrect fee is paid.
The L1 visa fees are generally paid by the employer directly to the USCIS. These payments can be by money order or cheque and must be submitted with the visa form.
The standard L1 visa application fees are (as at October 2019):
- Standard fee for filing an L1 petition is $325
- Obligatory anti-fraud fee of $500
- An additional fee of $2250 if you employ 50 or more workers in the US and half of your staff are working on an L1 visa status.
- Premium processing fee of $1225
Do you have a question about the L1 visa application?
The L1 visa offers many benefits to employers. It is not subject to an annual limit on the number of visas that can be issued this category, unlike the H-1B, and does not carry with it any educational requirements of the worker. It is also classed as ‘dual intent’ and as such, L-1 visa holders may become eligible to apply for US permanent residence. In addition, employers can submit blanket applications when transferring multiple employees to reduce the administrative burden of making separate individual applications.
The application process for the L1 visa is however complex and highly involved. For an application to succeed, subtantial and comprehensive supporting documentation will be critical. It will be better to over-document and ensure the adjudicator has all the information required to make a decision on the application.
Errors or omissions with the submission can result in delays with valuable personnel joining the company’s US operations.
NNU Immigration are specialist US immigration attorneys. From our central London base, we support companies from across the globe with L-1 visa petitions, ensuring initial eligibility and helping to minimize the L1 application processing time. We also provide guidance to the employer and employee through the petitioning process, and also extension applications.
If you have a question about the L-1 visa application process or eligibility requirements, contact us.
This article does not constitute direct legal advice and is for informational purposes only.