What are the L1 visa requirements?
The L-1 intracompany transfer visa enables companies to deploy key personnel to operations in the US on a temporary basis.
Strict eligibility criteria however apply for this category and for an employee to be eligible, they must evidence they meet the L-1 visa requirements.
Any application for an L1 visa will be scrutinized by US immigration authorities to verify that the role being filled by the non-US workers could not be filled by a US-resident worker. In practice, this creates an extremely high threshold to meet and evidence, requiring a compelling and thorough petition to be compiled.
The role of L-1 visa in talent mobility
The L-1 visa allows entry into the USA via an intracompany transfer, with permission for the transferee to live and work temporarily in the US. The L-1 visa can also lead to a US Green Card.
L-1 visa holders must transfer within their existing company to an affiliate, branch, subsidiary or parent company based in the USA.
L-1 visas are potentially open to employees of companies based in any country and of any size – whether a small start-up or global corporation, a company can apply to transfer eligible employees to qualifying entities in the USA.
There is no cap to the number of L-1 visas that can be granted, meaning employer’s prospects of making a successful application really are based on the ability to satisfy eligibility and providing a comprehensive petition.
There are two types of visa under the L-1 classification; the L-1A visa and L-1B visa. Each carries different eligibility criteria, requirements and restrictions.
L-1 visa requirements
To be eligible, 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.
To file for the L1 visa, the individual must opt for either the L1A or L1B classification.
The L1A visa relates to executive or managerial level roles, whereas the L1B visa is for roles in a specialized knowledge capacity.
L1A visa: What is an executive role?
The L-1A visa is for employees or business owners who will enter management or executive positions when they transfer to the US. The L-1A visa gives its holder the right to work in the USA for up to seven years, provided they continue to work for the same company, or a qualifying related company, in a position that continues to satisfy the visa criteria.
To qualify a beneficiary for L-1A classification, the company must show that the employee:
- Will work in a managerial or executive role while in the US;
- Holds the necessary qualifications or professional experience required to undertake the role in the US; and
- Has worked for the organization for a minimum of 12 months continuously within the three years immediately preceding the petition being filed.
For a position to be classed as an executive role, the employee has to show they are:
- Are responsible for directing the management a large function of the organization or of the organization as a whole
- Set the organization’s, or function’s, goals and policies
- Holds wide discretion and authority in decision-making
- Operates under lite, general supervision or direction eg from senior level executives, the board or stockholders.
For a role to be considered managerial, the employee has to show they are responsible for:
- Managing a department, function or the organization on a day to day basis.
- Overseeing and supervising the work of other supervisory, professional, or managerial employees, or managing an essential organizational function.
- Recruiting and other personnel duties, or where there are no direct reports, functions at a senior level within the organization.
To evidence the role meets the L1 visa requirements, the company must present the beneficiary’s typical managerial duties, and the percentage of time to be spent on each.
If the employee will be a first-line supervisor, submit evidence showing the supervised employees will be professionals. A professional is an individual who is a member of the professions, such as architects, engineers, lawyers, physicians, surgeons, and teachers in elementary or secondary schools, colleges, academies, or seminaries.
L1B visa: What is a specialized knowledge role?
The L-1B visa is aimed at employees transferring to a related US-based company because they have specialized knowledge or skills which are beneficial to the development of the branch or subsidiary they are moving to.
The L-1B visa gives its holder the right to work in the USA for up to five years provided they continue to work for the company or a related company and meet the visa criteria.
A position requiring specialized knowledge requires the employee to:
- Have particular and special knowledge of their organization – whether that relates to the product, service, techniques, research, equipment or other interests and application within international markets
- Have advanced knowledge of the organization’s procedures and processes
- Be a member of a profession, including but not limited to architects, engineers, lawyers, physicians and teachers
To qualify, the employer must be prepared to address the following points:
- Explain the basis on which specialized knowledge applies, ie in relation to the product, service, process or procedure or other organizational interest, and how this is ‘special’ and how it is applied in the international market.
- Describe why the knowledge is specialist and differs from other roles in the industry.
- Explain how the role requires knowledge that is advanced in relation to organizational processes and procedures.
- Provide an explanation as to why the role could not be performed by another person in the industry.
- Specify the minimum time required to gain the required knowledge, from training through to professional experience.
- Detail how the employee has already contributed value to the organization through assignments.
What is the Blanket L?
US companies seeking to employ multiple foreign nationals in L-1 status may file a blanket petition with US Citizenship and Immigration Services which serves as continuing evidence of the companies’ qualifying relationship.
With Blanket L status, the organization’s L visa employees will not be required to file an individual L1 visa petition. They will instead move straight to stage 2, and attend the L1 visa interview to verify their eligibility for either the L1A or L1B visa classification.
To be eligible for the Blanket L, the organization will need to show:
- It is engaged in commercial trade or services.
- It has an office in the US that has been operational for more than 12 months.
- It has three or more domestic and foreign branches, subsidiaries, or affiliates.
- The organization – and other qualifying organizations – have been granted at least ten L-1 petition approvals during the previous twelve months; or have US subsidiaries or affiliates with combined annual sales of at least $25 million; or have a US workforce of at least 1,000 employees.
How do you apply for an L-1 visa?
Eligible individuals will need to make the L-1 visa application with USCIS.
The L-1 visa process requires input from both the applicant and the employer.
The L1 visa petitioning process is in two stages. First, an application is to be filed with USCIS. This will be followed by a visa interview at the consular post or Embassy overseas where the petition was filed.
The initial application consists of filing an I-129 form, either through an individual petition or under an L-1 blanket petition.
If the application is being filed under an individual petition, the employer will need to file a petition on the employee’s behalf as an individual transfer. This consists of filing Form I-129 “Petition for a Non-immigrant Worker” as well as an additional L Supplement to USCIS. The USCIS will have to approve the petition before the employee can begin their application.
Individual petition applications will ordinarily take longer to process than blanket petition applications. If the application is being filed under a blanket position, whereby the employer can transfer multiple employees to the US on L-1 visas, the employer will need to file a Form I-129S “Non-immigrant Petition Based on L-1 Blanket Petition” with the USCIS.
Employees are not able to begin their applications until the petition has been approved, which will be when the employer receives a Form I-797 which can be used by employees to apply for the intracompany transfer to the USA. Blanket petitions are only valid for 3 years but can be renewed and extended indefinitely. If the employer allows the blanket petition to expire, they will need to wait 3 years before they can file another blanket petition but will be able to file individual petitions in the interim.
The next steps apply whether the application is under an individual or blanket petition.
Applicants must first file Form DS-160. The 5X5cm photograph must meet the US passport criteria will need to be uploaded as part of the form. When completed, the applicant will be redirected to a confirmation page which must be printed off and kept.
The applicant will then need to pay the application fee online and schedule their interview. The confirmation for both payment and of the interview date must be printed to take to the interview. A visa interview appointment letter will also be sent via email.
Prior to the interview, the applicant will need to gather the following documents as evidence for the application:
- The printed confirmation page and code from the DS-160 application
- The printed receipt for paid fees
- The letter confirming the visa interview appointment
- Valid passport, which must be valid for at least 6 months past the end date of their visa
- A 5×5 cm photograph meeting the USA passport criteria
- Copies of the forms completed and received by the employer: either 1 copy of both Form I-129 and Form 1-797 for individual applicants, or 2 copies of Form I-129S and 3 copies of Form I-797 for blanket petitions
- A letter from the employer confirming the job transfer and describing the US position
- Organizational chart
- Printed evidence of the applicant’s employment by the company for at least 1 of the last 3 years such as payroll records, applicant’s last annual tax returns (if applicable), tax withholding statements
- The contact details of at least 2 co-workers in both current and previous jobs
- University degree certificates
- A printed copy of their CV
- Degree certificate(s)
L-1 visa interview
The visa interview follows the receipt of the USCIS approval notice.
It will take place at a US Embassy or Consulate in the country where the applicant is applying from. At the interview, applicants are asked to provide documentary supporting evidence, and an official from the Embassy will ask questions to determine the reasons and intentions for travelling to the US and to confirm that the L1 visa requirements have been met.
The interview aims to confirm whether the transfer is genuine and that the applicant will work as intended in the USA. If the interview and application is successful, the visa will go on to be processed and the applicant’s passport will be taken for visa processing and returned by courier when complete.
How long do L1 visa applications take?
In many cases, it will be advantageous for the intracompany transferee to start work in the US as soon as possible. The L-1 visa application process, however, is not necessarily a swift process, with employers and employees generally advised to work a timeframe of 3 – 12 months for processing, or with Premium Processing USCIS adjudicates the case in 15 calendar days.
Ensuring the application is complete and comprehensive will help to avoid issues or delays in processing. A critical area of focus should be supporting documents to evidence eligibility under the route.
Can you renew an L-1 visa?
L1 visa renewals are possible if the visa holder continues to meet the visa requirements. However, maximum periods of stay under the L route apply. An L-1 beneficiary performing an executive or managerial role in the US will be allowed to spend a maximum of seven years in the US in L-1 status before they must return abroad for at least one year before being granted L-1 status again.
An L-1 beneficiary performing a specialized knowledge role in the US will be allowed to spend five a maximum of five years in the US in L-1 status before they must return abroad for at least one year before being granted L-1 status again.
Do you have a question about the L1 visa requirements?
The successful grant of L1-A and L1-B visa status will require careful preparation and extensive documentation in support.
NNU Immigration are specialist US immigration attorneys. From our central London base, we support companies and their employees from across the globe with L-1 visa petitions. We have the experience and expertise to meet the complex L visa requirements and application process.
If you have a question about the L-1 visa requirements, contact us.
This article does not constitute direct legal advice and is for informational purposes only.