The L-1 visa permits multinational companies to transfer certain individuals into the United States. The L-1A is for executives and managers, while the L-1B is for “specialized knowledge” workers. Like the H-1B, an L-1 is a “dual intent” nonimmigrant visa, meaning it may be used by individuals who are in the process of pursuing permanent residence status in the U.S., without jeopardizing the ongoing use of the L-1. Unlike H-1B’s, L-1 visas do not have prevailing wage requirements, nor do they generally require any minimum level of education (but see specific petition information for Blanket L-1Bs below.)
Caroline Ostrom, Minneapolis business immigration attorney, assists employers and employees worldwide who are seeking U.S. L-1 visas. We encourage you to contact us if you need legal advice regarding the process and requirements.
General Requirements for L-1 Visas
Both the L-1A and L-1B require that the employee to be transferred has gained at least one year of experience with a related company outside the United States, prior to the transfer. The foreign and U.S. companies must have a qualifying relationship, such as parent/subsidiary, branch office, or affiliation by common ownership. Company ownership structures vary widely, so the issue of whether there is a qualifying relationship for L-1 purposes must be examined on a case-by-case basis in most instances. An exception is the “Blanket L” scenario.
New Office L-1s
The L-1 may be used by organizations opening a new office in the United States. This often makes the L-1 attractive to entrepreneurs as well as established businesses. A “new office” is one that has been in operation in the United States for less than one year. In addition to showing a qualifying multinational relationship and a U.S. position meeting the definition of an executive, manager or specialized knowledge worker, the new office L-1 also requires showing that suitable business space has been arranged and the size/nature of the investment in the new office. If the L-1 transferee is an owner or major stockholder of the U.S. company, the petition must also contain evidence that the assignment in the U.S. is temporary, and the individual will be transferred abroad once the assignment is completed.
A new office L-1 is granted for only one year, and as the end of the first year approaches, an application to extend the L-1 status must be submitted. The extension must demonstrate the new office is functioning and will remain commercially viable. If the first personnel transferred to a new office are L-1A executives or managers, it must be established that the office is likely to need executives or managers after the first year. Executives and managers do not primarily do the “hands on” work of the company, and the typical expectation is that after the first year, the L-1A executive or manager will have subordinates to manage. Depending on the nature of the business, an L-1B may be a better choice for initial staffing of the new office.
Large multinational companies may apply for a Blanket L approval, which essentially pre-approves the qualifying relationships between the related companies. Once the Blanket L is in place, the companies listed on the Blanket L approval no longer need to prove their qualifying relationships to each other, unless the relationships change. The Blanket L is only available to companies with at least 3 related branches, subsidiaries or affiliates engaged in commercial trade or services. Also the companies must have combined U.S. sales of at least $25 Million, or 1,000 U.S. employees, or have received at least 10 approved individual L-1 petitions in the 12 months prior to submitting the Blanket L petition. Smaller multinationals may still use the L-1, but not the Blanket L.
L-1A Executives and Managers
An L-1A “executive” is an individual who primarily:
- Directs the management of the organization or a major component or function
- Establishes goals and policies; and
- Receives only general direction from higher-level executives, a board of directors or shareholders.
An L-1A “manager" is an individual who primarily:
- Manages the organization, department, subdivision, function or component;
- Supervises and controls the work of other supervisory, professional or managerial employees, or manages an essential function within the organization, department or subdivision;
- Has authority to hire and fire personnel or recommend those actions, or — if the manager does not directly supervise personnel — functions at a senior level within the organization or the function; and
- Exercises discretion over day-to-day operations of the activity or function.
L-1B Specialized Knowledge Workers
An L-1B “specialized knowledge” worker is one whose knowledge is:
- Different from that generally found in the particular industry;
- Special with respect to the company’s product, service, research, equipment, techniques, management or other interest, and its application in international markets; or
- An advanced level of knowledge or expertise on such topics associated with the company.
The specialized knowledge concept has suffered from poor definition and inconsistent application by U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services adjudicators over the years. The L-1B remains a challenging category for which to qualify, especially with individual petitions submitted to U.S. CIS. Employers with Blanket L approvals in place have often found more success through L-1B applications to the U.S. consulate rather than U.S. CIS.
L-1 Visa Time Limits
The L-1A may be granted for up to 3 years initially, and be extended up to 2 years at a time, for a total duration of 7 years, which is the absolute limit. The L-1B may also be granted for up to 3 years initially, and extended up to 2 years for a total of 5 years. Unlike H-1Bs, the L-1A and L-1B cannot be extended beyond these limits, even if the individual has a permanent residence process underway. It is important to note, however, that time spent outside the United States after either L-1 status begins may be added back to the total time available. For example, over a 7-year period, an L-1A spends 300 days outside the U.S. The executive or manager may “recapture” those days and accumulate a full 7 years of L-1A status inside the U.S. Also, any year in which the executive or manager is in the United States for less than 180 days does not count toward the maximum duration. Some L-1A and L-1B employees who travel frequently, or spend most of their time outside the U.S., never reach their time limit.
L-1 Visa Petition Procedures
The employer must petition for the L-1 employee; an employee may not self-sponsor for an L-1 visa. The employer submits a petition to U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services, proving the qualifying relationship and prior experience, as well as the executive/managerial role or specialized knowledge role proposed in the U.S. If the petition is approved, U.S. CIS issues an I-797 Notice of Action to the petitioning employer, referencing the individual employee. The employee may then apply for an L-1 visa at the U.S. consulate, travel to the U.S. and be admitted in L-1A or L-1B status, as appropriate.
The employer first petitions U.S. CIS for “blanket” approval of all its organizations with qualifying relationships. U.S. CIS issues a Notice of Action listing all companies with qualifying relationships to the petitioning company.
The Blanket L petition and approval do not list or consider any individual employee. The employer has a choice of applying again to U.S. CIS for approval of an individual employee as qualifying for L-1A or L-1B status, or sending the employee directly to the U.S. Consulate to apply for an L-1A or L-1B visa. In this case, the U.S. Consulate determines whether the employment circumstances are appropriate for L-1A or L-1B status.
It is important to note a variation between L-1B eligibility under the individual petition process and the Blanket L process. The L-1B “under Blanket” is limited to specialized knowledge “professionals” as opposed to specialized knowledge “workers.” The L-1B under Blanket may be granted only if the L-1B employee is a professional, holding a Bachelor’s degree or equivalent. Some consulates will consider experience combined with post-secondary education, or experience alone, as meeting the “professional” requirement. Others may insist on a degree equivalent to a U.S. Bachelors degree.
Spouses and children under 21 of L-1 employees can accompany and remain in the U.S. with the L-1A worker on L-2 visas. The L-2 spouses are work authorized incident to status.
How Our Minneapolis Immigration Attorney Can Help
Ostrom Law Office can work with your company to enable use of the L-1 visas, whether your company is an established multinational company, or, is considering establishing an office or entity in the U.S. or abroad to become eligible for the L-1. We can help ensure the proper documentation of qualifying relationships, as well as documentation of employment circumstances meeting the requirements of the L-1A or L-1B visa. We can assist with a Blanket L if feasible, and will assist employees in the process of applying for visas at the U.S. consulate, whether under a Blanket L or following approval of an individual petition.
Based in Minneapolis, our immigration team works with employees and companies in the Twin Cities and throughout the globe. We welcome you to contact Ostrom Law Office for assistance with your immigration matter.