L1 Visa Extension (Extend Your L-1 Stay)
If you are temporarily living and working in the United States under L1 status, you may be considering extending your visa to enable you to stay on a more long-term basis. The following guide looks at when you can apply for an L1 visa extension and how to make an application.
Please note that any delay or denial of your application could have significant consequences, both professionally and personally. It is always advisable to seek expert legal advice from a specialist in immigration law to ensure that you stand the best possible chance of being granted the L1 visa extension that you require.
What is an L-1 visa extension?
There are two different categories of US visa: immigrant and nonimmigrant. An immigrant visa is for foreign nationals who intend to live and work permanently in the United States, whereas a nonimmigrant visa is for those looking to stay in the US on a temporary basis only.
The L1 visa is a nonimmigrant visa that allows overseas employees of multinational organizations to temporarily transfer to the parent, branch, affiliate or subsidiary of the same company in the United States. This is commonly referred to as an intra-company transfer visa.
The L1 visa can also be used for key employees coming to the US to establish a new affiliated office. In either case, as an employee with L1 nonimmigrant status, you will only have permission to stay in the United States for a limited period of time.
As an L-1 visa holder, you may not remain in the United States under your L1 status indefinitely. The extension application allows you to stay in the US to continue working in your L-1 role.
To renew your L1 visa, you would need to satisfy the same criteria as you did on your initial application, namely that you have been employed as either an executive, manager or specialized knowledge employee by the parent, branch, affiliate or subsidiary of the US company for one year out of the three years immediately preceding your admission to the United States.
Without an extension to your visa, you will be required to leave the United States by the end of your permitted stay and you would have to wait a period of one year before making a new application for L1 status.
How long does an L1 visa last?
As an intra-company transferee working for an established US affiliated office, you will initially be granted an L1 visa for a period of three years. If, however, you have been granted L1 status to come to the United States to set up a new office, your initial visa will be for just one year.
The L1 visa classification can be divided into two categories: L-1A and L-1B. These categories specifically relate to the type of role that you work in, although in either case you must have been working within that role for at least one year out of the preceding three years prior to your admission to the United States.
If you are an L-1A visa holder, ie; an executive or manager working in the same or similar capacity in a US affiliated office, you may be granted an L1 visa extension in increments of two years. This is subject to a maximum permissible period of seven years, after which time you may be required to leave the United States before you can consider renewing your L1 visa application.
If you are an L-1B visa holder, ie; an employee with specialized knowledge about a company’s products, services and procedures, again working in a US affiliated office in the same or similar capacity, you may also be eligible for an L1 visa extension in increments of two years. You can only be granted an L-1B visa extension for a maximum period of five years.
You can apply for an L1 visa extension under either the L-1A or L-1B categories. In either case, you will need to apply to extend your visa before your L1 status expires. The relevant date should be noted in Form I-94.
Form I-94 is the Arrival/Departure Record, an electronic record that you should be able to access on the Customs and Border Protection website. If you changed to L1 status whilst in the United States, and have not left the country since, your I-94 card may be found on the bottom of your L1 approval notice.
The expiry date is the date on which your petition must be received by United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). It is not necessary for USCIS to approve your petition before your status expires and, subject to your petition having been filed in time, you will be permitted to continue working for your employer pending approval of your L1 visa extension.
How to apply for an L1 visa extension
The process for obtaining an L1 visa extension is very similar to the process of petitioning for your initial L1 status.
Essentially, your US employer will need to file a separate petition on your behalf with USCIS using Form I-129 prior to the expiry of your departure date on Form I-94.
Additional documentation will be required in support of this petition, including, for example, proof that you have been employed by the petitioning employer since living in the United States and the nature of your employment.
In particular, your employer must submit the following:
- Your prior L1 approval notice
- Your L1 visa
- Form I-94
- Form W-2 that shows you are employed with the L1 employer, namely the IRS tax form used to report wages paid and taxes withheld
- Pay slips from your US employer
- A letter signed by your US employer explaining the conditions of your employment and the reason for your extended stay in the US
- Copies of your employer’s recent tax returns and audited financial statements to verify that your employer is still doing business in the United States.
This list is by no means exhaustive, whereby much may depend on your individual circumstances, as well as those of your employer.
Further, where you have been responsible for setting up a new office in the United States, your application for an L1 visa extension will depend upon the overall viability of the US operations for which additional detailed documentation will need to be provided.
How to extending L-2 visas for dependents
If you are in the US with family members who have L-2 visas, they too will be required to apply to extend their visas if they are to remain with you. This is because L-2 status is dependent on your L-1 visa status, meaning their permission to be in the US expires at the same time as yours as the primary visa holder.
To extend the L-2, you as the L-1 visa holder have to file Form I-539 and submit this to USCIS with your completed Form I-129.
Can you transfer from an L1 visa to a different visa category?
For L-1B visa-holders whose maximum permissible stay is limited to five years, it may be possible to transfer from an L-1B to an L-1A visa. However, you would also need to satisfy the eligibility criteria for an L-1A visa by working in an executive or managerial capacity.
Further, if you move into an executive or managerial position, the petition for change of status must be approved at least 6 months before you reach the maximum five-year period.
You may also be able to change from L1 to H1B status, ie; for speciality occupations. You may wish to do this where you want to work for a different employer and are able to obtain a new US sponsor.
However, there are a limited number of H-1B visas available each year, subject to a lottery-style system that can significantly reduce your odds of successfully changing your status. Your new US employer would also be required to obtain an approved PERM labor certification before submitting an immigration petition on your behalf.
This is to satisfy the US Department of Labor that there are insufficient available, qualified and willing US workers to fill the position being offered at the prevailing wage, and that hiring a foreign worker will not adversely affect the wages and working conditions of similarly employed US workers.
Seeking an L1 visa extension is not always straightforward, particularly if you are looking to adjust your status.
By seeking expert legal advice you can feel reassured that you stand the best possible chance of being successfully granted an extension of stay.
NNU Immigration are specialist, London-based US immigration attorneys. We advise employees and employers on all aspects of the L1 visa, including extension applications and consideration of alternative US immigration options where required.
Contact us for advice with your L-1 visa extension.
This article does not constitute direct legal advice and is for informational purposes only.