By Michael Phulwani, Esq. and Dev B. Viswanath, Esq.
An L-1 visa is a nonimmigrant visa available for foreign individuals who have worked out of the country before working in the United States, for a parent, sister, or affiliated company where at least 51 percent of the ownership is the same. The foreign individual must have been employed as a manager, executive, or specialized knowledge employee of a foreign affiliate of a US company, and who will be transferred to the US affiliate job site to work in a similar position.
The L-1A nonimmigrant visa allows a US employer to transfer an executive or manager from an affiliated foreign office to an office in the US. The L-1B nonimmigrant visa allows a US employer to transfer a professional employee with specialized knowledge relating to the company’s interests from an affiliated foreign office to an office in the US. If the foreign company does not have a US office established, then the foreign company can send an executive, manager, or specialized knowledge employee to the US to establish an office.
To qualify for L-1 classification the employer must have a qualifying relationship with a foreign company and currently be, or will be, doing business as an employer in the US and in at least one other foreign country for the length of time that the employee will stay in the US as an L-1 visa holder. Doing business is defined as the regular, systematic, and continuous running of goods and/or services by a qualifying organization. A qualifying organization would include a parent company, branch, subsidiary, or affiliate of the overseas company.
To qualify for an L-1 visa the employee must have been working for a qualifying organization abroad for one continuous year out of the three years immediately prior the employee’s admission to the US and the employee must be looking to enter the US to provide service in an executive, managerial, or specialized knowledge capacity for a branch of the same employer or one of its qualifying organizations. Executive capacity is defined as an employee who has the ability to make decisions of wide latitude with minimum supervision. Managerial capacity is defined as the ability of an employee to supervise and control the work of professional employees and to manage the organization, or a department, subdivision, function, or component of the organization. An employee in a managerial position may also manage an important function of the organization at a high level without being supervised. An employee with specialized knowledge is one who retains special knowledge of the petitioning organization’s products, services, research, equipment, techniques, management, or other interests and its application in international markets, or it is an employee with an advanced level of knowledge or expertise in the organization’s processes and procedures.
If a foreign employer wants to send an employee with specialized knowledge to the U.S. to be employed in a qualifying new office, the employer needs to show that they secured enough physical space to hold the new office and show that they have the financial ability to pay the employee to begin doing business in the United States. For an L-1 visa employee entering the US in order to establish a new office the maximum initial period of stay is one year. For all other L-1 visa holders the maximum initial period of stay is three years. An L-1A visa holder employee may request an extension of stay for an additional two years until the maximum stay of seven years is reached. An L-1B visa holder employee may request an extension of stay for an additional two years until the maximum stay of five years is reached. Any dependents of L-1 visa holders, spouse and children under the age of 21, may be eligible for an L-2 visa. An L-2 visa holder may usually stay in the US as long as the L-1 visa holder maintains lawful status. Spouses with an L-2 visa may also apply for employment.
A blanket L visa petition allows certain companies to establish the required intercompany relationship before filing an individual L-1 petition. Once the blanket petition has been approved, the employer needs to only complete a Form I-129S, Nonimmigrant Petition Based on Blanket L Petition, and send it to the employee with a copy of the blanket petition approval notice and other required evidence. When applying for a visa at a consular post, the employee will need to present the approval notice to a consular officer with an application for an L-1 visa.
The L1A and L1B visas are a wonderful tool to have for businesses that are expanding in the US or are in need of resources to handle workload in the US from time to time that require highly specific knowledge.