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The L-1 Visa, Explained

Learn about the eligibility requirements and application process for the L-1 work visa

What is the L-1 Visa?

The L-1 visa is a non-immigrant visa category in the United States that is designed for intracompany transferees. It allows multinational companies to transfer certain employees from their foreign offices to work in the U.S. temporarily.

The L-1 visa is a popular choice for multinational companies to transfer key personnel to the United States, allowing them to manage operations, oversee projects, and share specialized knowledge while maintaining the company’s global presence.

In this guide, we’ll cover the eligibility requirements for the L-1 visa, what cost and timeline to expect, and how to apply. 

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L-1A vs. L-1B Visa

The L-1 visa is divided into two subcategories:

  • L-1A Visa: This category is for managers and executives who are being transferred to a U.S. office that is a subsidiary, branch, affiliate, or parent company of the foreign employer. 
  • L-1B Visa: This category is for employees with specialized knowledge who are being transferred to a U.S. office of the same multinational company. Specialized knowledge typically refers to advanced knowledge or expertise in the company’s products, processes, technology, or other areas.

L-1 Visa Eligibility

To be eligible for an L-1 visa, both the employee (visa applicant) and the employer (sponsor) must meet specific eligibility requirements. Here are the general eligibility requirements for the L-1 visa:

For the Employee (L-1 Applicant):

  • Employment with a Qualifying Organization: The employee must be currently employed by a qualifying multinational organization with a relationship to the U.S. employer. The organization must be a parent company, subsidiary, affiliate, or branch office of the U.S. entity.
  • Position Qualification: For L-1A (Managers/Executives), the employee must be coming to the U.S. to work in a managerial or executive capacity. This typically involves overseeing a significant portion of the organization’s operations or managing a critical function. For L-1B (Specialized Knowledge), the employee must possess specialized knowledge of the organization’s products, services, technology, or procedures. Specialized knowledge means advanced knowledge that is not commonly possessed by other employees in the industry.
  • One Year of Employment: The employee must have worked for the foreign company continuously for at least one year within the three years immediately preceding the L-1 visa application. This period of employment must have occurred outside the U.S. 

For the Employer (Sponsor):

  • Qualifying Relationship: The U.S. employer must have a “qualifying relationship” with the foreign entity employing the visa holder. This includes parent, subsidiary, affiliate, or branch office relationships. The organizations should demonstrate a significant level of control or ownership by the same parent or entity.
  • Conducting Business in the U.S.: The U.S. employer must be actively doing business in the U.S. and must have a physical office or facility where the employee will work. In the case of a new office, the U.S. entity must demonstrate a plan to support the employee’s position.
  • Employment Offer: The U.S. employer must extend a valid employment offer to the employee and be willing to file an L-1 petition with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) on the employee’s behalf.

L-1 Visa Cost

The costs for the L-1 visa can vary depending on several factors, including the type of L-1 visa (L-1A or L-1B), whether you are filing a new petition or an extension, and whether premium processing is requested.

In general, there is a $1385 fee to file Form I-129 (Petition for Nonimmigrant Worker) with USCIS ($695 for smaller employers and nonprofits).

In some cases, an additional $500 anti-fraud fee may be required, depending on the circumstances and the employer. If premium processing is requested, there is an additional fee of $2805.

L-1 Visa Timeline

The processing time for an L-1 visa can vary, depending on the USCIS service center where the petition was filed and the complexity of the case. In general, L-1 visas tend to have much faster processing times than other work visa categories. 

You can check the current processing times for L-1 visas at specific USCIS service centers here.

Certain applicants may also be eligible to request “premium processing” of their Form I-129 for an additional fee (mentioned above). If approved, USCIS will typically process your L-1 visa application within 15-45 calendar days.

L-1 Visa Process

To apply for an L-1 visa, both the sponsoring employer and the L-1 visa applicant must follow a specific process. Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to apply for an L-1 visa:

Sponsoring Employer’s Role:

  • File Form I-129: The U.S. employer must file Form I-129 (Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker) with USCIS. This petition generally includes a detailed description of the job position, evidence of the qualifying relationship between the foreign employer and the U.S. entity, and proof of the beneficiary’s eligibility and qualifications. 
  • Pay Government Filing Fees: The employer must pay the required filing fees for Form I-129 and any additional fees, such as the anti-fraud fee or premium processing fee, if applicable. 

L-1 Visa Applicant’s Role:

  • Complete DS-160 Application: Once the Form I-129 petition is approved, the visa applicant should complete the Form DS-160 (Online Nonimmigrant Visa Application) on the Consular Electronic Application Center (CEAC) website.
  • Pay Visa Application Fee: After filing Form DS-160, the applicant will need to pay the required visa application fee to the U.S. Embassy or consulate where the visa interview will be scheduled.
  • Schedule & Attend Visa Interview: Next, the applicant can schedule an appointment for a visa interview at the U.S. Embassy or consulate in their home country. The L-1 visa interview may require specific supporting documents, such as a valid passport, proof of your employment offer, and more. You can learn more about how to prepare for visa interviews in Boundless’ guide.

L-1 Visa Frequently Asked Questions

The H-1B visa is for individuals with specialized skills, sponsored by a U.S. employer, and allows changing employers. It requires at least a bachelor’s degree and offers an initial stay of up to 3 years, extendable up to 6 years, with no requirement for foreign company affiliation.

On the other hand, the L-1 visa is for intracompany transferees within multinational companies, requiring at least one year of employment with the foreign company. Unlike H-1B visa holders, L-1 visa holders are limited to working for their sponsoring employer only. The initial stay is also up to 3 years, but extending it is contingent on a relationship between the company’s foreign and U.S. offices.

No, the L-1 visa is not a lottery-based visa category like the H-1B visa. As long as the applicant and the employer meet the specific eligibility requirements and provide the necessary documentation, there is no lottery process involved in obtaining an L-1 visa.

Choosing between the L-1 and H-1B visas depends on your specific situation and career goals. The L-1 visa is suitable for multinational company employees transferring to a U.S. office, with no visa lottery, making it less competitive. It also allows spouses (L-2 visa holders) to work in the U.S. without restrictions. On the other hand, the H-1B visa is ideal for those in specialized occupations, often in high-demand fields like the tech industry, and it offers more job portability and a potential path to permanent residency.

The L-1 visa offers several advantages for both multinational companies and foreign workers. It enables intracompany transfers, allowing key personnel to work in the U.S. without an annual cap or lottery system. Spouses of L-1 visa holders can also work, enhancing financial stability for families. Additionally, the L-1 visa can serve as a path to permanent residency and is often processed more quickly than other work visa categories. Its flexibility in accommodating different roles within a company makes it a valuable tool for multinational businesses looking to expand their U.S. operations.

The initial period of stay for both L-1A and L-1B visas is either one year (for individuals establishing a new office in the U.S.) or three years (for all other visa holders), with options to renew status in increments. Managers and executives can stay in the U.S. for up to seven years under the L-1A visa, while L-1B visa holders can stay in the U.S. for up to five years.

Yes, it is possible to apply for a green card (permanent residency) through an adjustment of status while you are on an L-1 visa. The L-1 visa is a dual intent visa, which means that holders of L-1 visas can have the intent to immigrate to the U.S. permanently while maintaining their temporary work status. You can learn more about the green card process in Boundless’ guide.

Yes, as long as you comply with the requirements of the VWP, you can travel outside the U.S. and re-enter. However, the total duration of your stay in the U.S. cannot exceed 90 days within a 180-day period.

L-1 visa holders can bring their spouses and unmarried children under the age of 21 to the U.S. on L-2 visas. Since 2021, L-2 spouses are automatically granted U.S. work authorization upon entry to the U.S. However, the ability to work on an L-2 visa is contingent upon the principal L-1 visa holder maintaining their L-1 status. If the L-1 visa holder’s status is terminated or they leave their job, it may impact the L-2 visa holder’s ability to work in the U.S.

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