L-1B visa for specialized knowledge transfers
If you’re an employee of a multinational firm and have specialized knowledge within that organisation, you may be able to transfer to a US branch or affiliate under the L-1B visa.
L-1 visa petitions are subject to high levels of scrutiny. The consular officer will be looking to determine whether you meet the L1B visa requirements, and qualify as a specialized worker.
Through your petition and interview, you will need to show why your knowledge and skills are critical in the circumstances, and why a US-resident worker could not perform the role instead.
If the application is not comprehensive or complete, you may be subject to a Request for Further Evidence, which will delay processing.
What is the L1B visa?
The L1 nonimmigrant classification, otherwise known as the intra-company transfer visa, enables a multinational employer to transfer a professional employee to an affiliated office in the United States.
The L1B visa is for professionals with specialized knowledge within their organisation, while the L1A category visa is for managers and executives.
The L1B visa will enable that employee to work for a parent, branch, affiliate or subsidiary of the same company in the US.
The L1B visa classification also enables a foreign company that does not yet have an affiliated US office, to send a specialized knowledge employee to the United States to help set one up.
L1B visa requirements
To be eligible for an L1B visa the following criteria must be satisfied:
- The company or organization that you work for must have a qualifying relationship with a parent company, branch, affiliate or subsidiary in the United States. Here, the US and non-US firm must have common majority ownership or common control by the same persons or entities.
- The US employer must meet the obligations of a qualifying organisation, namely the US employer must currently be doing business in the US or will be, and in at least one other country, for the duration of your stay as an L1B visa holder.
- You must have worked for the non-US company or organization for at least one continuous year in the past 3 years prior to the filing of the L1B visa petition.
- You must have maintained a position within the non-US company or organization that involved specialized knowledge about its products, procedures or methods.
- You must be coming to the US to continue to render services requiring that specialized knowledge, where you must have an offer to work in a similar capacity for a branch of the same company, organization or employer.
If you are being transferred to help establish a brand new affiliated US office, the company or organization that you work for must also demonstrate that premises to house the new office have been secured, and that it has the financial ability to both commence doing business in the US and to remunerate you.
What is L1B ‘specialized knowledge’?
The L1B visa is only intended for key personnel within a company or organisation, namely, those with ‘specialized knowledge’ relating to the organisation’s interests.
This is defined under the Code of Federal Regulations as:
“…special knowledge possessed by an individual of the petitioning organization’s product, service, research, equipment, techniques, management, or other interests and its application in international markets, or an advanced level of knowledge or expertise in the organization’s processes and procedures.”
As an L1B applicant, you must therefore possess extraordinary and inimitable knowledge or expertise over the organization’s products, services and/or its management, typically gained through years of experience, making you vital to the overall functioning and competitiveness of the business.
Knowledge that is widely held or related to common practices or techniques, and is readily available in the US job market, will not be regarded as ‘specialized’ for the purposes of the L1B visa classification.
How to apply for an L1B visa
The US employer, which functions as the L1B visa petitioner, must first file Form I-129, a petition for a nonimmigrant worker, on your behalf with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). This petition will need to be approved by USCIS before you can apply for your L1B visa.
The petition must also be accompanied by the L-classification supplement to this form, together with the relevant fee.
Your US employer can file an individual petition, or a blanket petition using Form I-129S. A blanket petition can be used where several key personnel with specialized knowledge have been identified for transfer to the US, or it is believed that additional key personnel may be needed in the US in the next 3 years.
When USCIS approve the individual or blanket petition, the US employer gets a Form I-797 as proof.
You will then be required to submit Form DS-160, an online form that is submitted to the Department of State. Having paid an additional fee, you must schedule an interview appointment with a US Embassy or Consulate.
Consular officers will use the information entered on the DS-160 to process your visa application and, together with a personal interview, determine your eligibility for an L1B visa.
At interview, you will be required to submit various documents in support of your L1B visa application, including but not limited to:
- Forms I-129 & I-797
- A letter from your U.S employer confirming your transfer and job description
- Proof that you have worked within that company or organisation for at least one year in the past 3 years.
- Proof of your specialized knowledge.
At the conclusion of your interview, the interviewing officer should inform you whether the L1B visa application has been approved, denied, or if further documentation is required.
If your visa application is approved and you are issued an L1B visa, your passport will be returned to you via courier service to the visa collection or passport location specified when making your visa interview appointment.
How long does an L1B visa application take?
Form I-129 should be filed by your prospective US employer at least 45 days before your intended start date, although it cannot be filed more than 6 months before your employment begins.
Once your petition is filed, the processing time can be anything up to 6 months. However, premium processing may be available for the L1B visa, whereby your employer can pay an additional fee to expedite the processing time to 15 days.
Once your petition is approved, you will need to go through consular processing and should visit the US Embassy or Consulate to which you are applying for their specific L1 visa processing times.
How long is an L1B visa valid for?
An L1B visa will be initially granted for 3 years, if you are a specialized employee transferring to an existing U.S office. If you are opening a new office in the US, the L1B visa will be granted for a period of 1 year.
Once granted the L1B visa can be renewed in increments of 2 years, extendable to a maximum period of 5 years.
L1B visa application costs
When applying for an L1B visa there are various fees that will be payable by your employer, including:
- A basic filing fee – USD $460
- A fraud prevention and detection fee – USD $500
- Public law fee of USD $4500 for US employers with 50 or more employees where more than 50% of these staff have L1 visa status
- Optional fee of USD $1,225 for premium processing
The visa petitioning fee when submitting Form DS-160 is USD $190. You must pay this fee and any other applicable fees that are based on the country you are from and the US Embassy you are applying to, such as reciprocity fees.
L1B visa application pitfalls
The eligibility criteria for an L1B visa holder are strict. You should therefore expect high levels of scrutiny throughout the application process.
During your interview, you will be asked detailed questions regarding your place of work, your specialized knowledge and why your knowledge is so important to the company or organization that you work for. The consular officer will be looking to understand if the role could instead be performed by a US resident worker.
In particular, you must demonstrate advanced knowledge in your profession, and this knowledge must specifically relate to the business of the US employer that has filed the petition on your behalf.
It is best to answer questions as fully as possible to avoid any incomplete information, as this in itself can lead to your application being delayed or even denied.
NNU are experts in US immigration law and can guide you through the L1B application process and evidencing your specialized knowledge to satisfy the visa requirements. We also assist with L visa extension applications.
Contact us for advice from our specialist US immigration attorneys.
This article does not constitute direct legal advice and is for informational purposes only.