The L-1 Visa Pathway for the USA
The United States of America is consistently one of the strongest global economies. For businesses, investors or entrepreneurs considering an expansion of their existing business into the United States, the L-1 visa may be one of the most suitable visa options.
The L-1 Visa is the most direct visa for an intracompany transfer to the United States
The L-1 visa is meant for transferring high-level executives and managers, as well as specialized employees to a new or existing office in the United States. In order to qualify for the L-1 visa there must be a qualified corporate relationship between the foreign entity and the US-entity. The most common examples of this involve a parent-subsidiary, affiliate or branch relationship between the two entities.
Through the L-1A intracompany transfer visa, the main applicant must demonstrate that they have been functioning in an executive or managerial capacity, and that they will continue to be employed in one of these capacities through the US entity.
The L-1B intracompany transfer visa permits a “specialized employee” of the foreign entity to be sponsored by the US entity – a successful applicant must prove that they possess a unique knowledge that is specialized and integral for the US entity to function.
In order for a L-1 visa applicant to qualify, you must have worked in a full-time capacity for at least one-full year in the last three-years for the foreign company. It is necessary to demonstrate that you’ve held this managerial/executive/specialized position – and any travel time to the United States will be discounted from the one-year requirement.
L-1 Visa Requirements
U.S. immigration lawyers and law firms represent with a diverse range of business across all industry sectors and sizes— from entities with 5 employees to 50,000 employees.
In practice, your L-1 visa success depends on a holistic evaluation of your business that requires you to meet basic requirements.
A New or Existing US businesses may qualify for the L-1 Visa
The L-1 visa application requires a corporate relationship between the non-US and US entity. An applicant may be sponsored by either a new US entity (i.e. new office petition) or an existing US company. The foreign entity may even acquire an existing US operation and qualify, as long as the acquisition is structured properly to meet the L-1 requirements.
It is important to note that if you are considering launching a new business (i.e. new office petition) in the United States the US entity must be structured and ready to operate (if not already operational) before applying for the L-1 visa. This includes several early-stage efforts to have the US entity framework in place and includes matters such as: Securing a commercial lease, building a strong 5-year business plan, hiring a minimum of 1-2 full-time employees, and establishing the US bank account.
No investment requirements for US company
Unlike the E-2 Treaty Investor visa, the L-1 visa category does not focus investments made into the US company. More generally, it is necessary to demonstrate that the US company has overall financial health – that it maintains the financial capacity to operate and continue to function as is demonstrated in the business plan. This can be achieved by presenting a variety of supporting documentation, such as: bank statements for both the non-US entity and US company, high-level agreements between the two entities, access to credit-lines and much more. In essence, it’s necessary to prove that operational expenses such as the commercial lease and employee salaries can be supported by the US company.
In presenting the 5-year business plan for the L-1 application it is also not required to demonstrate that the US business is profitable. Oftentimes, a “break-even” point can be projected 2-3 years into the future – however, it is still important to convince USCIS and the Consular officer that the business is well-funded and can meet its capital operational requirements.
Permits Multiple Applicants through the L-1A and L-1B options
The L-1 visa is a very suitable immigration pathway for multinational companies that may have multiple employees to transfer. It is also good for smaller multinational companies that may only have two or three key employees to transfer to the United States office. As described above, there are actually two categories of the L-visa, which are applicable for executives or managers and specialized employees of the foreign entity. If you are considering to transfer multiple foreign workers into the United States it is important to seek proper legal counsel, as you will need to be able to justify the necessity of transferring new employees to work for the United States company.
Expedited processing available through USCIS
Generally, there are two steps to the L-visa process and government processing. The first application (form I-129) will be submitted to the appropriate United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) center. For this process, it is possible to pay an expedited government processing fee (I-907) for the adjudication of the petition – through this premium processing option, USCIS will render a decision within 15 calendar days. The second step in the process applies to applicants who will be obtaining a visa at the relevant US Consulate abroad. Once USCIS approves the I-129 application, this notice will be sent directly to the US Consulate and an interview will be scheduled for the applicant.
A qualified U.S. immigration attorney will work with your business to ensure a smooth visa processing experience – this includes help with the application, all the way through to preparing an applicant for the Consular interview.
Multiple Entry-Visa for up to 7-years
Similar to the E-2 visa, the L-1 visa category is subject to the Department of State reciprocity schedule. Depending on the applicants nationality, you may be subject to different restrictions – but generally, the L-1 visa permits multiple-entry for the United States (i.e. no limit on the amount of times you travel in/out of the United States).
For new office petitions – i.e. for those that will be establishing a new entity in the United States – a L-1 visa will be granted for only one (1) year. The policy is to ensure that when the time for a L-1 extension/renewal arrives, the L-1 enterprise has been staying true to the original intentions. In other words, the US company should be operating in the same nature of business, maintain a minimum amount of US employees and still be able to demonstrate healthy financial strength.
For existing office petitions – i.e. the US company is already operational – the L-1 visa may be granted for an initial term of 2-3 years (depending on an applicant’s nationality).
If an applicant wishes to remain in the United States, they must apply for an extension/renewal of the L-1 visa before the expiration date. It is common to receive extensions for the L-1 visa in 2-3 year intervals. In total, one may maintain a L-1 visa for a total of seven (7) years – afterwards a new visa solution will be necessary.
Potential to apply for a Green Card through the EB-1C Immigrant visa & EB-5 Immigrant Investor Visa
The L-1 visa is a non-immigrant visa that permits an applicant to live and work in the United States for a US-employer – it does not lead to a Green Card. In order to become eligible for Permanent Residency (i.e. Green Card) in the United States it will be necessary to qualify for an “immigrant-based” visa category.
One of the most common pathways to an immigrant-based visa from the L-1 is through the EB-1C visa. In many ways, the EB-1C visa is the immigrant version of the L-1. Obviously, if you are obtaining a Green Card, the threshold for the application will be higher – but having at least one approval of the L-1 visa for a potential candidate carries a lot of weight with USCIS and the Department of State.
If your goal is to live permanently in the United States, find a qualified U.S. immigration attorney that has experience building tailored solutions for obtaining a Green Card through the L-1 and EB-1C visas.