The L-1, intracompany transferee visa allows managers, executives, and especially knowledgeable employees who work outside the U.S. for a company that has an affiliated entity inside the U.S. to come to the U.S. and perform services for that entity. There are no limits on how many people can get L-1 visas every year.
Meeting the Basic Criteria for an L-1 Visa?
A worker qualifies for an L-1 visa if he or she has been employed outside the U.S. by the sponsoring company for at least one continuous year out of the past three years, and is being transferred to the U.S. to work as a manager, executive, or specialized knowledge worker. (Managers and executives receive L-1A visas and people with special knowledge receive L-1B visas.)
The U.S. company to which you are transferring must be a parent, branch, subsidiary, affiliate, or joint venture partner of the non-U.S. employer. “Non-U.S. company” means that it is physically located outside the United States. Such a company may be a foreign division of a U.S.-based business or it may have originated in a country outside the United States. Either one fits the definition of a non-U.S. company.
The company must continue operations for the duration of your visa, and the visa holder should expect to be transferred back upon return. In case the foreign employer closes, the U.S. employer must have a related foreign company to which the L-1 visa holder could theoretically be transferred.
Key Features of the L-1 Visa
Here are some of the pluses, minuses, and other things to know about the L-1 visa:
- An L-1 allows its holder to work legally in the U.S. for the L-1 sponsor for up to three years on the first visa. Extensions of up to two years at a time are available, with a maximum time in the U.S. of seven years for a manager or executive, or five years for a person with specialized knowledge. If someone has previously held an H visa, however, that time spent in the U.S. counts toward the five- or seven-year maximum.
- Although the visa holder is generally expected to work full-time in the U.S., the person can work somewhat less if dedicating a significant portion of time to the job on a regular and systematic basis.
- The L-1 visa holder may work only for the U.S. employer that served as visa sponsor, and the employer must be a parent, branch, subsidiary, affiliate, or joint venture partner of the company that currently employs the person outside the United States.
- An accompanying spouse and minor children may also obtain visas to the U.S., in category L-2.
- The spouse may apply for employment authorization in the United States.
- The L-1 visa holder may, if desired, take trips in and out of the U.S. until the L-1 status expires.
- If the person has an L-1 visa based on an executive or managerial level position in the U.S. company, and the employer, or some other employer, wishes to sponsor the person for a U.S. green card, the law allows him or her to go ahead and pursue this. The L-1 visa is “dual intent,” which means that applying for a green card does not raise questions about the applicant's truthfulness in also claiming to qualify for a visa that involves showing that the person intends to remain in the U.S. only temporarily.
Details of L-1 Visa Eligibility Rules
Let’s take a closer look at some of the eligibility rules for the L-1 visa.
Qualifying as a Manager, Executive, or Person With Specialized Knowledge?
The job held with the non-U.S. company must fit the definitions of a manager, executive, or person with specialized knowledge. What does that mean, in immigration law language? The immigration-law definitions of “manager,” “executive,” and “specialized knowledge” are more restricted than their everyday, dictionary meanings.
Manager. A manager is defined as someone who:
• manages the entire organization or else a department, subdivision, function, or component of the organization
• supervises and controls the work of other supervisory, professional, or managerial employees or manages an essential function, department, or subdivision of the organization
• has the authority to hire, fire, or recommend such personnel decisions. If no employees are supervised, the manager must work at a senior level within the organization or function, and
• is authorized to make decisions concerning day-today operations of the portion of the organization under his or her management.
This definition can be difficult to apply in the case of first-line supervisors – that is, lower-management personnel who directly oversee nonmanagement workers. A first-line supervisor is not normally considered a manager; but the opposite may be found if the employees being supervised are at a professional level. The meaning of “professional” is a worker holding a university degree in a field related to his or her occupation.
Note: A manager coming to work for a U.S. office that has been in operation for at least one year may also qualify for a green card as a priority worker.
Executive. An executive is defined as someone who, as part of his or her primary role:
• directs the management of the organization or a major function or component of it
• sets goals or policies of the organization or one of its parts or functions
• possesses extensive discretionary decision-making authority
• receives only general supervision or direction from higher-level executives, a board of directors, or stockholders
Note: An executive coming to work for a U.S. office that has been in operation for at least one year may also qualify for a green card as a priority worker.
Persons With Specialized Knowledge. The term “specialized knowledge” refers to the employee’s understanding of the employer company, including its products, services, research, equipment, techniques, management or other interests and its application in international markets, or advanced knowledge of the company’s processes and procedures. USCIS and consular officers will be looking for knowledge that is not widely held throughout the industry, but is truly specialized. They will also be looking to see that such knowledge is not readily available within the United States.
Employer Qualifications as a Parent, Branch, Subsidiary, Affiliate, or Joint Venture Partner
L-1 visas are available only to employees of companies outside the U.S. that have related U.S. parents, branches, subsidiaries, affiliates, or joint venture partners. There is also a special category for international accounting firms. For visa purposes, these terms have the following specific definitions.
Parent. A non-U.S. company that owns more than 50% of the U.S. employer.
Branches. A different operating location of the same company. The clearest example of this is a single international corporation with branch offices in many countries.
Subsidiaries. The U.S. company owns a controlling percentage (50% or more) of the foreign company.
Affiliates. Although no direct ownership exists between the two companies, both are controlled by a common third entity, either a company, group of companies, individual, or group of people.
Joint Venture Partners. Although there is no common ownership between the two companies, they have jointly undertaken a common business operation or project
International Accounting Firms. In the case of big accounting firms, the interests between one country and another are not usually close enough to qualify as affiliates under normal L-1 visa rules. Nevertheless, the law considers the managers of such companies qualified to support L-1 visa petitions for their employees. The firm must be part of an international accounting organization with an internationally recognized name.
You Would Like an L-1 Visa: What's Next?
If you think you might qualify for an L-1 visa, your best bet might be to hire a lawyer. Larger employers often have their own lawyers on staff. The lawyer can help make sure that your application is done right the first time. Nolo's Lawyer Directory can help you find an expert attorney who fits your needs and has taken the Nolo pledge promising respectful service. Look in particular for an attorney with expertise in business immigration law (even immigration law has subspecialties within it).