Can You Change Employer or Job on an L-1 Visa?
If you are currently working in the United States as an intracompany transferee on an L-1 visa, you may be looking to change job roles. You may even be looking to start a new job with another employer. The following guide looks specifically at whether a change of L-1 employer or job while on an L-1 visa is possible, together with other potential visa options.
Is a change of L-1 employer or job while on an L-1 visa possible?
For current L-1 visa holders in the US, you may hold either L-1A or L-1B status. L1-A status is for executives or managers of multinational companies having transferred from overseas to a parent, branch, affiliate or subsidiary in the United States, while L-1B status is for transferees with specialised knowledge about a company’s products, procedures or other interests. In both instances, the L-1 visa can also be for senior or specialised knowledge employees sent to open a new branch or office in the US, where you may be currently working hard to make this happen, while thinking about your next career move.
In any one of these scenarios, it is not uncommon for an L-1 visa holder to be given the opportunity to change jobs or be promoted within the same company, or to start a new job with another company where, faced with the prospect of a promotion, or perhaps better pay and conditions, you will be relieved to know that this is possible – at least in theory.
In this guide, we explore the potential options available for L-1 visa holders in the US, either looking to change employer altogether or to change position but with the same employer.
Can you transfer an L-1 visa to a different job with the same employer?
If you were originally admitted to the US as a specialised knowledge employee in L-1B status, you may be looking to be promoted into an executive or managerial position with the same employer. Similarly, if you are in the US in either an executive or managerial role, you may be looking to move into a more specialised knowledge role. In either case you can transfer your L-1 visa to a different job with the same employer although, as a new position within the company, your employer would still need to obtain USCIS approval. This is because your employer must notify USCIS of any significant changes in your employment.
If you have come to the United States on either L-1A or L-1B status to set up a branch or office for your overseas employer, you may be offered a new position to stay on in the US. Again, in this scenario, provided you will be working for the same employer, you will be able to change your job role. In this instance, however, given that an L-1 visa for the purposes of establishing a new branch or office will only be granted for a maximum of one year, the application will be for a visa extension on the basis of your new qualifying role.
It is worth noting that for L-1B visa holders, whose maximum permissible stay in the US is limited to 5 years, it may be beneficial to transfer from L-1B to L-1A status, provided you can satisfy the criteria by moving into an executive or managerial role. As an L-1A visa holder, you will be permitted to extend your stay in the US for up to 7 years. However, where you are initially admitted in a specialised knowledge capacity and are later promoted to an executive or managerial position, you must have been employed in that more senior position for at least 6 months to be eligible for the total length of stay of 7 years.
An application to obtain permanent residency in the United States, also known as a green card, is also relatively straightforward from L-1A status, as either a multinational manager or executive under the EB-1C employment-based immigration route.
What do you need to do to change jobs with the same employer on an L-1 visa?
To change jobs with the same employer on an L-1A or L-1B visa, your employer must file an amended L-1 petition with USCIS, ideally before the change occurs, where any material change in terms of employment will usually require an amended petition.
There is no exclusive list of what constitutes a material change, but is likely to include any substantial change in job title, duties or salary. This may include a promotion or increase in responsibilities, although a raise or bonus will not require an amended petition. However, a change from a specialised knowledge role within an organisation to an executive or managerial role, or vice versa, will almost certainly be classed as a material change.
Other changes that may require an amended petition include a change in the position from full-time to part-time, or change in worksite locale, especially to a different city or town.
What are the options for L-1 visa holders looking to change employer?
The options for L-1 visa holders looking to change employer, rather than simply looking to change job but with the same employer, are far more limited. This is because your L-1 visa is tied to your current employer, where you cannot accept any other employment outside of your sponsoring employer’s organisation without having a fresh L-1 petition approved.
In practice, if you have been presented with the opportunity to work for someone new in the United States, this must either be where you will be working for a different company but one still affiliated with your current employer, or where you have previously worked for a foreign branch, subsidiary, parent or affiliate of an unrelated company for 1 year in the last 3 years. This means that your options will be restricted only to companies that you have worked for in the recent past, provided they have offices in the United States.
If the company you plan on transferring to is related to your existing L-1 employer and has a qualifying relationship with the foreign company you originally worked for, then you can probably change employer for L-1 visa purposes, subject to USCIS approving this change. If, however, the company is not related, then you will be unable to change employer while maintaining L-1 status, unless your employment history can establish that you meet the 1-year foreign employment requirement and there is a qualifying corporate relationship.
Can you transfer an L-1 visa to a different job with a different employer?
In theory, as an L-1 visa holder, you can transfer to a different job with a different employer, but you would need to satisfy all the relevant requirements for a new L-1 visa. To qualify, you must generally have worked for a qualifying organisation abroad for a full continuous year within the 3 years immediately preceding your admission to the United States, and be providing services within either an executive, managerial or specialised knowledge capacity to a branch of the same employer or one of the employer’s qualifying organisations.
To qualify for L-1 classification in this category, the employer must:
- have a qualifying relationship with a foreign parent company, branch, subsidiary, or affiliate, which are collectively referred to as qualifying organisations, and
- currently be, or will be, doing business as an employer in the US and in at least one other country, either directly or through a qualifying organisation, for the duration of your stay in the US as an L-1 nonimmigrant.
However, even if these requirements can be met, you still cannot transfer to a new employer on the same L-1 visa. To start work for different and unaffiliated company, you would be required to have a fresh L-1 petition approved for your new employment. This essentially means that before you can change employer on an L-1 visa, the employer must obtain USCIS approval by filing an L-1 petition on Form I-129 on your behalf, together with the “L” supplement. It is only once USCIS approves the new employer’s L-1 petition, that you would be able to transfer and start work in your new job.
As the L-1 visa is inextricably tied to your sponsoring employer, where there are no porting provisions under this visa route that will enable you to easily move employers, your options are limited when it comes to maintaining L-1 visa status in new employment.
What are the visa options to remain in the US working for a different employer?
In most cases, if you want to work for a different employer, one not affiliated to your existing sponsor, you would have to apply for a change to status to a different work visa.
The primary option for a change of employment status for those already in the US on L-1 visa status, would be the H-1B visa, designed for those with a job offer in a specialty occupation. However, the expression “specialty occupation” for the purposes of the H-1B visa is in no way synonymous with the expression “specialised knowledge” for the L-1B visa. A specialty occupation is one that requires at least a bachelor’s degree or equivalent in a specialised field, usually in one of the STEM categories, such as science, technology, engineering or mathematics. In contrast, specialised knowledge refers to having knowledge that is specific to the interests of the multinational company sponsoring the employee.
Unlike the L-1 visa, the H-1B is not restricted to multinational companies, although there are a limited number of H-1B visas available each year, subject to a lottery-style system in the United States that can significantly reduce your odds of successfully changing your nonimmigrant status. There is a general quota of 65,000 H-1B visas issued within each fiscal year, with an additional quota of 20,000 for those with a US master’s degree. You will also usually need to have a bachelors degree or its equivalent to apply, while there are no strict qualification requirements for an applicant of either an L-1A or L-1B visa.
Still, if you meet the eligibility requirements and your application for an H-1B visa is successful, you will no longer be restricted in terms of changing your employment. This is because under specific “porting” provisions, H-1B nonimmigrants may transfer to a different employer while maintaining their H-1B status. The porting provisions enable an H-1B worker to change to a different job without the risk of being “out of status”, while enabling an employer to employ an H-1B nonimmigrant worker sooner than the employer would otherwise be able to utilise the services of that worker. An H-1B employee who is changing H-1B employers may begin working for the new employer as soon as that employer files a new Form I-129 petition on behalf of the employee, provided the employer does this before the employee’s period of authorised stay expires.
Additionally, as with L-1 visas, as the holder of H1-B status you may apply for permanent residency, provided you meet the relevant requirements for a green card.
An alternative option, if you are living in the US with a spouse who is also working with nonimmigrant employment status, is to apply to change status to become the dependent of a spouse. Certain individuals in a dependent nonimmigrant status may be eligible for employment authorisation incident to status, including spouses of E1 or L nonimmigrants.
Additionally, certain H-4 dependent spouses of H-1B nonimmigrants can file Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization, as long as the H-1B nonimmigrant has already started the process of seeking employment-based lawful permanent resident status.
What happens if your employment under your L-1 visa is terminated?
If you are in the US under an L-1 visa and your employment is voluntarily or involuntarily terminated, there may be a number of options available to you to enable you to remain in an authorised period of stay without having to leave the US. These include filing an application for a change of nonimmigrant status or for adjustment of status. It could also include filing an application for a “compelling circumstances” employment authorization document or being the beneficiary of a nonfrivolous petition to change employer.
If one of these actions occurs within the 60-day grace period, your period of authorised stay in the United States can exceed 60 days, even if you lose your previous L-1 status. However, if you take no action within this grace period, you may need to depart the United States within 60 days, or when your authorised validity period ends, whichever is shorter. In these circumstances, expert advice from an immigration specialist should always be sought.
NNU Immigration are L-1 visa specialists. We advise sponsors and employees on all aspects of the intracompany transfer visa, including guidance on changing employers or job roles while on an L1 visa. For expert advice from our US immigration attorneys, contact us.
L1 visa change of employer or job FAQ’s
How do I change my employer on my L1 visa?
If have an L1 visa, you can change to an affiliated employer within the same company group if they file an amended petition. However, for a completely new employer, you may need to switch to H-1B status instead.
Can you change status on L1 visa?
It is possible to switch to H1B status from an L1 visa, provided you meet the requirements for a speciality occupation. Once in H1B status, under special portability provisions, you can then easily change employer.
Is L1 visa employer specific?
An L1 visa is employer specific, where your visa is tied to your sponsoring employer. While you can change job role within your employer’s organisation, you would not be allowed to swap to a new employer under the same visa.
Is it possible to apply for an L1 visa through my previous employer?
It is theoretically possible to apply for an L1 visa through your previous employer, provided you worked for that employer overseas for 1 out of the last 3 years and they have a qualifying corporate relationship with your US sponsor.
This article does not constitute direct legal advice and is for informational purposes only.