An L-1 visa allows a U.S. employer/company to transfer an executive, manager, or employee with specialized knowledge from one of its affiliated foreign offices to one of its offices in the U.S. The L-1 visa is divided into two subcategories: L-1A and L-1B. The former is issued to executives or managers of the foreign company, while the latter is for employees with specialized knowledge relating to the company’s interests. Foreign companies without a U.S. office may also obtain L-1 visas to send an executive, manager, or specialized knowledge employee to open a U.S. office. Thus, a foreign or U.S. entity can act as the sponsor for the L-1 visa.

Duration of L-1 Visa

The L-1 visa is a temporary professional work visa valid for up to five years for specialized knowledge employees and seven years for managers and executives. Executives, managers, or specialized knowledge employees entering the U.S. with the purpose of establishing a new office for the foreign company will be allowed a maximum initial stay of one year. All other L-1A and L-1B employees will be granted a maximum initial stay of three years. L-1A employees may extend their stay in increments of up to two years until they have reached the maximum limit of seven years. On the other hand, L-1B employees may extend their stay in increments of up to two years until the maximum limit of five years is reached.

L-1 Petitioner Requirements

To qualify as an L-1 petitioner, a U.S. or foreign company must prove that: 1) it has a qualifying relationship (i.e. parent company, branch, subsidiary, or affiliate) with a foreign company; and 2) it is currently, or will be, doing business as an employer in the U.S. and in at least one other country either directly or through a qualifying organization (i.e. parent company, branch, subsidiary, or affiliate) for the duration of the L-1 employee’s stay in the U.S. Note that the second requirement does not mean the employer has to be engaged in international trade. The petitioning company, not a third party, must primarily control and supervise its L-1 employees. To meet these requirements, the petitioning company can provide USCIS with corporate family charts, annual reports, articles of incorporation, financial statements, stockholder lists, or other documentation showing common ownership.

L-1 Beneficiary Requirements

To qualify, an L-1 foreign transferee must establish that he or she: 1) has worked for the qualifying company abroad for one continuous year within the three years immediately preceding his or her admission to the U.S. as an L-1 employee; and 2) is entering the U.S. to work in an executive, managerial, or specialized knowledge position for a U.S. branch of the same employer or one of its qualifying organizations (i.e. parent company, branch, subsidiary, or affiliate). An executive employee is one who has the ability to make decisions of wide latitude with little or no oversight. A qualifying managerial position employee should have the ability to supervise and control the work of professional employees and to manage the company or one of the company’s divisions, departments, components, etc. A managerial capacity employee can also refer to someone who has the ability to manage an essential function of the company at a high level without supervision from others. A specialized knowledge employee should have special knowledge of the petitioning company’s product, service, research, equipment, techniques, management, or other interests and its application in international markets, or an advanced level of knowledge/expertise in the company’s processes and procedures.

Family of L-1 Beneficiaries

Spouses and children (less than 21 years old) of L-1 employees can receive L-2 status. If approved, L-2 spouses and children will typically receive the same period of stay as the L-1 employee. L-2 spouses may also obtain authorization to work in the United States in any type of employment.

L-1 Application Process

A U.S. or foreign company usually submits an L-1 petition to USCIS using Form I-129, Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker. Upon receipt of the USCIS L-1 approval notice, a foreign transferee applies for visa issuance at a U.S. Consulate or Embassy by filing DS-160, Nonimmigrant Visa Application. Normally, visa issuance under the L-1 category takes just one day at major consular posts. If the employee is already in the U.S., the employer should request change to L status for the employee on Form I-129. Spouses and children of L-1 employees can apply for L-2 status at a U.S. Consulate or Embassy using DS-160 or, if in the U.S., by filing Form I-539, Application to Extend/Change Nonimmigrant Status, to change their status to L-2. The process for L-1 employees of blanket L certification companies differs slightly as described below.

Documents Necessary for L-1 Petitions

  1. A recent annual report and product information for the transferring company.
  2. Documentation from the transferring company, such as payroll records or a certified letter from the employee’s supervisor, that demonstrates that the employee worked at its foreign office in an executive, managerial, or specialized knowledge position for twelve continuous months within the three immediately preceding years. The letter should certify that the beneficiary was an employee (not an independent contractor), state the beneficiary’s salary, and briefly describe the beneficiary’s job duties, with an emphasis on duties such as supervising professional staff, having budgetary authority, and setting sales goals and strategies.
  3. A job offer letter from the U.S. company outlining the position and job duties in the United States.
  4. Proof of the affiliation between the foreign company and the U.S. company. If this information is contained on the company’s annual report, that is sufficient.
  5. Evidence of the beneficiary’s qualifications for the position, such as diplomas, licenses, and his/her résumé.
  6. Copies of the beneficiary’s visa documents, C.V., and passport.

Additional Requirements for L-1 Visas for New Offices

For cases in which a foreign company is sending an executive, manager, or specialized knowledge employee to open an office in the U.S., the foreign company must meet additional requirements. For an L-1A visa, the petitioning employer must show that it has secured sufficient physical premises to house the new office, the employee has been employed as an executive or manager for one continuous year in the three years preceding the filing of the I-129 petition, and the intended U.S. office will support an executive or managerial position within one year of the approval of the L-1A petition. For an L-1B visa, the employer has to show that it has secured sufficient physical premises to house the new office and that it has the financial ability to pay the employee and begin doing business in the U.S.

L-1 Filing Fees

USCIS requires the fees detailed below. Current fee amounts and exceptions are listed on the USCIS website.

  • The I-129 filing fee.
  • For initial L-1 visa petitions or when filing for an L-1 visa holder currently working for another U.S. employer, the petitioner must also pay a fraud detection and prevention fee.
  • An additional fee must be paid by companies that employ more than 50 employees in the United States if more than 50% of those employees are in L-1 or H-1B status.

Blanket L-1 Petitions

For companies who frequently transfer employees from their foreign offices to the U.S., USCIS offers blanket L certification. A blanket L petition allows a company to establish the required intracompany relationship in advance of filing individual L-1 petitions. To receive blanket L certification, a company must satisfy the following:

  • The petitioning company and each of the qualifying organizations (parent company, branch, subsidiary, or affiliate) are engaged in commercial trade or services;
  • The petitioning company has an office in the U.S. that has been doing business for at least one year;
  • The petitioning company has at least three domestic and foreign branches, subsidiaries, and affiliates; and
  • The petitioning company and the other qualifying organizations have obtained at least ten L-1 approvals for executives, managers, or specialized knowledge professionals during the previous year; have U.S. subsidiaries or affiliates with combined annual sales of at least $25 million; or employ at least 1,000 employees in the U.S.

An approved blanket L petition facilitates the process for an employer to transfer eligible employees to the U.S. It does away with the requirement to file an individual petition for each employee with USCIS and, thus, gives employers the ability to quickly transfer eligible employees to a U.S. office. Note, however, that an approved blanket L petition does not guarantee that an employee will be granted an L-1A or L-1B visa. In this regard, specialized knowledge employees have an additional requirement to qualify for an L-1B visa under a blanket L petition—they must also be a professional.

L-1 Application Process under a Blanket L Petition

The process for an employee to apply for an L-1A or L-1B under a blanket L petition is as follows:

  • The petitioning company completes Form I-129S, Nonimmigrant Petition Based on Blanket L Petition.
  • The petitioner gives the completed Form I-129S to the employee along with a copy of the blanket L petition approval notice issued by USCIS.
  • The employee goes to a U.S. Consulate or Embassy and applies for an L-1A or L-1B visa after electronically filing a DS-160, Nonimmigrant Visa Application. The employee must apply for the L-1A or L-1B visa within six months of the date on the I-129S.

Employees already in the U.S. who need to change their status to L-1 and visa-exempt employees should file I-129S with the USCIS Service Center that approved the blanket L petition. Canadian citizens can present the I-129S to a U.S. Customs and Border Protection officer at a Class A port-of-entry on the U.S.-Canada border or at a U.S. pre-clearance/pre-flight inspection station in Canada.