If you are an overseas employee being temporarily transferred to an affiliated U.S. office, or you are currently working in the U.S. under L1 status, you will need to know the maximum stay that is permissible under this type of visa.
Below we look at the difference between immigrant and nonimmigrant visas, how long you can legally stay in the United States under an L1 visa, and how you go about making your stay in the U.S. more permanent.
L1 visa maximum stay: immigrant and nonimmigrant visas
There are two different categories of U.S. visas: 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 foreign nationals looking to enter the United States on a temporary basis.
An L1 visa is a nonimmigrant intra-company transfer visa. In other words it is a temporary visa for professional employees of an international company to transfer to a parent, branch, affiliate or subsidiary of the same company in the United States. It can also be used for professional employees coming to the U.S. to set up a new affiliated office.
Accordingly, an employee with L1 nonimmigrant status will only have permission to stay in the U.S. for a limited period of time.
L1 visa maximum stay: L1A and L1B visas
There are also two different categories of L1 visa: the L1A and the L1B. The L1A visa is designed for professional employees working in an executive or managerial capacity, whereas the L1B visa is for employees who have specialised knowledge about a company’s products, services and procedures.
In either case, the employee must have been working within this role for at least one year out of the preceding three years and be intending to undertake the same or similar role in the United States.
L1 visa maximum stay: extension of status
As an L1 visa holder transferring to an established affiliated U.S. office, you will initially be granted permission to stay in the United States for a period of three years. If, however, you are coming to the United States to set up a new office, the initial grant will be for just one year.
In either case, subject to meeting the qualifying criteria, your visa can be extended in increments of up to two years for a maximum period of seven years under an L1A visa and five years under an L1B visa.
How easy it will be for you to extend your L1 visa will depend upon the nature of your continued role within the company, and whether the overseas and affiliated U.S. office have continued to have a qualifying relationship for the duration of your stay.
Where you have been responsible for setting up a new office in the United States, your application for an extension of stay will depend upon the overall viability of the U.S. operations.
For L1B visa-holders whose maximum permissable stay is limited to five years, it may be possible to transfer from an L1B to an L1A visa.
However, your application would need to be approved six months prior to the expiry of your existing visa. You would also need to satisfy the eligibility criteria for an L1A visa by working in an executive or managerial capacity.
L1 visa maximum stay: reapplying for L1 status
Having exhausted the maximum permissible stay under an L1 visa, a foreign employee must work outside the United States for a minimum period of one year before a new application can be made for L1 status.
To reapply for an L1 visa, you would need to satisfy the same criteria as you did on your initial application, namely that you have been employed by the parent, branch, affiliate or subsidiary of the U.S. company for one year out of the three years immediately preceding your admission to the United States.
L1 visa maximum stay: adjustment of status
For those of you who are looking to settle in the U.S. on a more permanent basis, the L1 visa provides the overseas employee with the option to apply for an employment-based immigrant visa whilst still in the United States.
Even though a nonimmigrant visa is, by its very nature, temporary, the L1 visa can still provide a pathway to permanent residence. This is known as a dual intent visa.
Under a standard visa, as a prerequisite to being granted entry clearance you will need to show that you do not intend moving to the U.S., for example, by maintaining a residence in your country of origin.
A dual intent visa does not require such proof, rather it will allow you to lawfully enter the United States on a time-limited nonimmigrant basis, albeit with immigrant intent, thereby enabling you to petition for a change of status while present in the U.S.
Under an L1A visa you can apply for permanent residency under the EB1C route. The criteria under this category are similar to those for L1A status, whereby many overseas executives and managers come to the U.S. under a nonimmigrant visa, then apply at a later date to change their status.
However, given that you will need to have been employed in an executive or managerial capacity at a company outside the U.S. for at least a year during the three years preceding the petition, your EB1C application will need to be made within two years of being in the United States.
To gain permanent residency with L1B status, where you are working in a non-management role as a specialised knowledge employee, you must instead use the EB2 category (advanced degree) or the EB3 category (skilled or professional worker).
The adjustment of status process for L1B visa-holders is far less straightforward than for those with L1A status, requiring your U.S. employer to obtain an approved labor certification before submitting the immigration petition.
Known as the PERM Labor Certification requirement, this is to satisfy the U.S. Department of Labor that there are insufficient available, qualified and willing U.S. 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 U.S. workers.
L1 visa maximum stay: gaining entry under an L1 visa
It is important to remember that whilst an L1 visa entitles the holder to travel to the United States, the issuance of a visa does not in itself guarantee entry.
A visa simply indicates that a U.S. consular officer has reviewed the application and determined that you are eligible to enter the U.S. on a temporary basis as an intra-company transferee.
On arrival in the United States an immigration official at the port-of-entry will conduct an inspection to determine if you are eligible for admission under U.S. immigration law.
You should therefore always carry with you any documentation in support of your reason for travel, not least a letter from your U.S. employer setting out your job role and start date, as you may need to prove your intentions.
Do you have a question about the L-1 Visa Maximum Stay?
The visa period under there L route will depend the classification you are eligible under. It is advisable to take advice on your immigration options and explore other routes which may better suit your requirements and eligibility.
NNU Immigration specializes in advising employers and employees on their US business immigration options. Our US immigration attorneys have particular expertise in the L1 visa, including petitions for Blanket L petitions and L1 visa extensions.