L Visas for Intra-Company Transfers to the USA
L-1 intra-company transfer visas are non-immigrant visas available to persons coming to work in the US for a US based employer that has an ownership relationship with a foreign company the applicant has worked for prior to entering the US.
Advantages of the L-1 Visa
The L-1 Visa category offers several advantages that it many cases make it preferable to other types of work visas:
- There is no annual limit on the number of visas issued in this category;
- An alien may pursue permanent residency while on an L-1 visa: and
- There is a matching permanent residency category that makes applying for permanent residence relatively straight-forward.
The first requirement for the L-1 is for the applicant to have been continuously employed abroad for at least one (1) year out of the last three (3) years for a parent, affiliate, subsidiary, or joint-venture of a US employer.
The employer may be a company or other legal entity including a profit, non-profit, religious, or charitable organization.
Any time spent working in the US will not count toward the one year of required employment, though time spent in the US will not be considered to have disrupted the continuity of employment abroad. It is possible to use a combination of part-time employment for affiliated companies under certain circumstances.
Qualifying Relationship Between Foreign Business and U.S. Business
Second, the foreign firm and the US firm must have a “qualifying relationship.”
The US and the foreign firm must have common majority ownership, or, where there is less than majority ownership, common control by the same person or entity.
Ownership by a common group of owners where no owner has control or a majority interest can cause a problem if each individual owner does not own approximately the same amount of both the US and the foreign company.
This problem can sometimes be resolved if the owners enter into a voting agreement to ensure that there are not different groups controlling the foreign firm and the US firm.
L-1 Applicant’s Work Experience
Third, the applicant must be coming as a manager, executive or specialized knowledge employee.
“Specialized knowledge” refers to employees with:
- A special knowledge of the company’s products and their applications in world markets; and
- An advanced or proprietary knowledge of the company’s processes or procedures.
An “executive” is one who directs the management of the company or a major part or function of the organization. Typical executive positions are presidents, vice-presidents and controllers. An executive is expected to have a supervisory role in the company (either over personnel or a function) and would not include people who are primarily performing the specific tasks of production or providing service to customers.
A “manager” directs the organization, a department, or a function of the organization. Like executives, a qualifying manager will not be overseeing the primary performance of a task. Exceptions apply when a manager or executive is coming to open a new office.
Dual (Temporary and Permanent) Intent is Permitted
Fourth, the applicant must intend to depart the US when his or her stay is over.
But the applicant may also pursue permanent residency simultaneously without a negative impact on the ability to keep or extend an L visa.
This is because the doctrine of dual intent applies to L-1 visas (just like H-1B visas).
This makes the L visa a popular option for multinational firms.
Duration of Authorized Stay
Executives and managers may stay in L-1 status for up to 7 years. They are granted L-1A status. Specialized knowledge employees may stay in the US for up to 5 years. Their visas are called L-1B’s.The visas will be granted with an expiration of up to three years. Whether the visas are multiple entry or not depends on the applicant’s country of origin.
Persons coming to open up a new office in the US will only be granted a one-year stay in the US.
The USCIS will also typically require additional information about the plans for the new office such as proof that office space has been identified and/or obtained, that the applicant has had the appropriate experience with the foreign company and that the foreign company will remain in existence during the full period of the applicant’s transfer to the US.
If the company wants to have the L-1 visa extended beyond the initial year, it will have to demonstrate at the time of extension that it has proceeded with the plans outlined in the initial petition.
The USCIS will also more closely scrutinize cases where the transferred employee also has an ownership interest in the company, since the USCIS may not believe the owner intends to ever leave the US.
The US employer will need to show here that the firm’s need for the transferee is not indefinite and that the transferee’s foreign business interests are a strong lure for the person to return upon the expiration of the transferee’s stay in the US.
Applications for L-1 visa status must first be approved by the USCIS Service Center having jurisdiction over the location where the transferred employee will be situated.
The employer must send Form I-129 (Petition for Non-Immigrant Worker) with the L Supplement, petition letter, supporting documentation and filing fee to the USCIS Service Center. After the USCIS Service Center approves the application, the employee must apply at a US Embassy or Consulate for the L-1 visa stamp. The Embassy or Consulate normally approves the application unless it believes the USCIS has been defrauded or the USCIS was not aware of important information.
Blanket L-1 visas
There are special procedures that make it easier for companies sending over large numbers of applicants to get L-1 visas for their employees. Companies that qualify can receive a “blanket approval” for all of their workers rather than having to apply to USCIS individually for each employee. To qualify for a blanket petition, the company must meet the following tests:
- The US and foreign offices must be engaged in commercial trade or services;
- The employer’s US office must have been in business for at least a year;
- The employer must have at least three domestic or foreign branches, subsidiaries, or affiliates; and
- The Employer must show one of the following: a) at least ten L-1 visas were approved in the last year; b) the company had US sales of at least million, or c) the US work force numbers over 1,000 workers.
The procedures for filing are largely similar to a normal L-1 application except that the employer must also submit evidence showing the above requirements are met and the firm’s petition letter can be replaced with a company letter summarizing the basis for the L-1 petition.
Lawful Permanent Residence after the L-1 visa
It is also worth noting that the EB-1 Multinational Manager/Executive category for employment-based green cards closely resembles the L-1A visa category.
The green card requires a showing of all of the same evidence.
The main additional requirement is that the US operation be in existence for at least a year.
The category is very popular because applicants can avoid the onerous PERM (Labor Certification) process, they can have an ownership interest in the company and they can proceed to the green card relatively quickly.