L1 Visa Processing 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.
US immigration rules, however, are strict and application processing can be protracted, which does not always align well to the organization’s timeframes or support the employer’s commercial needs to have the right people in the right place at the right time.
In this article we consider how long the L-1 visa processing can take and what steps employers and workers can take to avoid delays with the application.
Factors affecting L1 visa processing
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.
L1 visa processing times vary by consular post, depending on caseload, and by application, with more complex or incomplete petitions taking longer.
The pandemic has also resulted in processing delays as USCIS deals with the backlog of applications.
In addition, L1 petitions continue to be subject to considerable scrutiny. 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. 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.
L-1 visa application process
To understand processing times, it helps to consider the various stages of the 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.
It is the caseload of the consular post that will largely determine the processing time, as well as the quality of the submission and supporting documents.
How long is the L1 visa processing time?
Generally, the average L1 visa application time can be between six months to a year, depending on the consulate or embassy the application is filed at and the quality and circumstances of the application. This is usually no difference in the processing times between the L1A and L1B classifications.
Processing of form I-129 at a USCIS service center can take up to 6 months.
If approved and the applicant is outside the US, the next stage is to attend a visa interview at the US consular post in the country where they filed the petition, which can take a further six months.
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 $2500 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 the fee will be refunded.
RFEs & delayed L1 processing
When the USCIS assess the 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.
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.
Adjudicators have substantial discretion in respect of the applications before them and they are no longer required to issue a Request for Further Evidence (RFE), before denying an application in the event an application is lacking in evidence or information.
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.
This makes it important to ensure the application is accurate, complete and thorough.
There is no single or exhaustive list of supporting documents to be provided. However, this would usually include as a minimum:
- A detailed description of the role, responsibilities and purview to demonstrate that it satisfies the L1 threshold.
- Details of the organizational structure and growth projections.
- Evidence that the employer can remunerate as required.
Taking advice from an immigration specialist can help ensure you are representing the case most effectively.
Reducing the L1 processing time
Errors or omissions in the application can result in delays, or worse, a refused application.
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. The following can help to avoid delays or issues with processing.
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 an assessment of the application and evidence by the USCIS officers looking at the application. Critical to any assessment 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.
Correct 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 should be permitted to work in the US in favor of a resident worker. This will require a detailed explanation of the employee’s duties, an 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 time of writing):
- Standard fee for filing an L1 petition is $460
- Obligatory anti-fraud fee of $500
- An additional fee of $4500 if the organization employs 50 or more workers in the US and half of its staff are working on an L1 visa status.
- ACWIA Training and Education Fee: $750 for employers with a workforce of 25 or fewer. $1,500 for employers with a workforce of 26 or more.
- DS-160 application fee (for consular processing only): $190
- Premium processing fee of $2500
L1 visa extensions processing time
The L1 visa is temporary. It will initially be granted for a maximum of 3 years. To remain it the US beyond this point would require a further petition to be made, where the same processing time will apply as with the initial application. Alternatively, premium processing offers faster adjudication.
Note that the visa extension period will differ depending on the visa classification:
- L1A visa – maximum of 7 years in total.
- L1B visa – maximum of 5 years in total.
L1 visa to US permanent residence
The L-1 visa does permit holders to apply for a US Green Card, provided they satisfy the eligibility criteria.
It is then a matter of waiting for the ‘priority date’ is current with the Department of State’s final action dates. These dates are made available in the DoS monthly visa bulletin.
Once the I-140 petition is approved, the priority date will be current and the applicant will be able to submit an I-485 form to have their status adjusted from nonimmigrant L1 status to lawful permanent residency under a green card.
It is important to note that the premium processing service can be used for all I-140 petitions as well, shortening the usual six-month L1 to green card processing time to 15 calendar days. However, the I-485 processing time is generally between six to eight months and this form cannot be expedited by premium processing.
Green Card application processing will vary between L-1As and L-1Bs.
The L-1A for managers and executives qualifies under the EB-1C ‘first preference’ green card route, which has current priority dates across the board.
L-1Bs however will come under second or third preference levels – typically involving longer wait times.
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.
However, the L1 visa can be one of the more complex visa petitions and is certainly one of the more heavily scrutinized. Adjudicators are looking for specific and unequivocal evidence and reasoning as to why a US resident worker could not undertake the work in question and why the applicant is singularly placed to carry out the required work.
The application process for the L1 visa is however complex and highly involved. For an application to succeed, substantial 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’s US attorneys have substantial experience in supporting companies, employees and business owners with US visa applications, including the L-1 visa for intracompany transfers.
We will work with you to ensure eligibility criteria are satisfied, and to advise on you on how best to build and present the application to overcome adjudication concerns.
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.