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What is the Requirement for an L-1 Visa?

The L-1 nonimmigrant classification allows a U.S. employer that is part of an international organization to transfer employees from one of its related foreign offices to one of its offices in the United States. Such intracompany transferees may work in the U.S. office in a managerial or executive capacity (L-1A) or in a position that involves specialized knowledge relating to the organization’s interests (L-1B).

In addition, under the L-1 classification, a foreign company that does not have an affiliated U.S. office may send certain employees to the United States to help establish such an office. Such a foreign company may send employees to the United States in a managerial or executive capacity (L-1A) or in a position that involves specialized knowledge (L-1B). In this blog, we will explain the requirements and specific considerations of the L-1 classification.

Table of Contents

1. Eligibility for an L-1 Visa
2. How to File an L-1 Petition
3. How to Request Premium Processing
4. Required Fee for an L-1 Petition
5. Period of Authorized Stay
6. Change of Employers
7. Changes in Employment Conditions
8. Change of Status
9. Family of L-1 Visa Holders

1. Eligibility for an L-1 Visa

I. Intracompany Transferee: Manager or Executive (L-1A)/Employee with Specialized Knowledge (L-1B)

Employer’s Requirements

To qualify for the L-1 classification, the qualifying employer who intends to temporarily transfer an employee to work in the United States must satisfy the following conditions:

  • There is a qualifying relationship (parent, branch, affiliate, or subsidiary) between the entity in the United States and the foreign company that employs the intracompany transferee abroad; and
  • The petitioning employer currently is, or will be, doing business as an employer in the United States and in at least one other country directly or through a parent, branch, affiliate, or subsidiary for the duration of the intracompany transferee’s stay in the United States.

What is “Doing Business”?

Doing business” here means providing goods and/or services regularly, systematically, and continuously. Mere presence of an agent or office of a U.S. or foreign firm, corporation, or other legal entity which satisfies the above requirements (qualifying organization) in the United States and abroad does not satisfy the requirement.

Intracompany Transferee’s Requirements

In addition, the intracompany transferee must meet the following conditions:

  • In general, have been working for a qualifying organization abroad for 1 continuous year within the 3 years immediately preceding his or her application for admission to the United States;
  • The 1 year of continuous employment abroad was in a managerial or executive capacity or in a position that involved specialized knowledge;
  • Be seeking to enter the United States temporarily to provide services to its qualifying organization;
  • The position in the United States will be in a managerial or executive capacity (L-1A) or will involve specialized knowledge (L-1B); and
  • If the intracompany transferee will enter the United States as an employee with specialized knowledge and primarily be working at a location other than the petitioning U.S. employer’s location, then transferee must be:
    • Under the primary control and supervision of the petitioner; and
    • Working at the offsite location in connection with an exchange of products or services between the petitioning company and the unaffiliated company for which specialized knowledge specific to the petitioning company is required.

What is a “Managerial Capacity”?

A “managerial capacity” generally means an assignment within an organization in which the employee primarily:

  • Manages the organization, or 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 within the organization, or a department or subdivision of the organization;
  • Has the authority to hire and fire or recommend those as well as other personnel actions (such as promotion and leave authorization) if the employee directly supervises any employee(s); if the employee directly supervises no other employee, functions at a senior level within the organizational hierarchy or with respect to the function managed; and
  • Exercises discretion over the day-to-day operations of the activity or function for which the employee has authority.1

What is an “Executive Capacity”?

An “executive capacity” means an assignment within an organization in which the employee primarily:

  • Directs the management of the organization or a major component or function of the organization;
  • Establishes the goals and policies of the organization, component, or function;
  • Exercises wide latitude in discretionary decision-making; and
  • Receives only general supervision or direction from higher level executives, the board of directors, or stockholders of the organization.

To determine whether an employee’s job duties will be primarily managerial or executive, USCIS considers the totality of the evidence in the record and weighs all relevant factors. Such factors may include:

  • The nature and scope of the petitioner’s business;
  • The petitioner’s organizational structure, staffing levels, and the employee’s position within the petitioner’s organization;
  • The scope of the employee’s authority;
  • The work performed by other staff within the petitioner’s organization, including whether those staff relieve the employee from performing operational and administrative duties; and
  • Any other factors that contribute to understanding an employee’s actual duties and role in the business.

What is “Specialized Knowledge”?

Specialized knowledge” means:

  • Special knowledge possessed by an individual of the petitioning organization’s product, service, research, equipment, techniques, management, or other interests and its application in international markets; or
  • An advanced level of knowledge or expertise in the organization’s processes and procedures.

When determining whether an employee’s knowledge is specialized, the officers may consider certain factors, including whether the beneficiary(s’):

  • Possesses knowledge of foreign operating conditions that is of significant value to the petitioning organization’s U.S. operations;
  • Has been employed abroad in a capacity involving assignments that have significantly enhanced the employer’s productivity, competitiveness, image, or financial position;
  • Claimed specialized knowledge is normally gained only through prior experience with the petitioning organization;
  • Possesses knowledge of a product or process that cannot be easily transferred or taught to another person without significant economic cost or inconvenience;
  • Has knowledge of a process or a product that either is sophisticated or complex, or of a highly technical nature, although not necessarily unique to the petitioning organization; or
  • Possesses knowledge that is particularly beneficial to the petitioning organization’s competitiveness in the marketplace.

II. Intracompany Transferee: New U.S. Office Establishment

New U.S. Office Establishment by Manager or Executive (L-1A)

A foreign company that does not have an affiliated U.S. office may send certain employees to the United States to help establish such an office. In addition to the above requirements for the L-1 classification, foreign employers that seek to send an employee in a managerial or executive capacity to the United States to establish a new office must demonstrate that:

  • The employer has secured sufficient physical premises to house the new U.S. office;
  • The employee has been employed in an executive or manager capacity for 1 continuous year in the 3 years preceding the filing of the petition;
  • The proposed employment involved executive or managerial authority over the new operation; and
  • The intended U.S. office will support an executive or managerial position within 1 year of the approval of the petition.

New U.S. Office Establishment by Employee with Specialized Knowledge (L-1B)

Similarly, in addition to the above requirements for the L-1 classification, foreign employers that seek to send an employee with specialized knowledge to the United States to establish a new office must demonstrate that:

  • The employer has secured sufficient physical premises to house the new U.S. office;
  • The business entity in the United States is or will be a qualifying organization; and
  • The employer has the financial ability to compensate the employee and begin doing business in the United States.

III. Blanket Petitions

The blanket petition program allows a petitioner to seek continuing approval of itself, its parent, and its branches, subsidiaries, and affiliates as qualifying organizations and, later, classify under the L nonimmigrant category any number of beneficiaries employed by itself, its parent, or its branches, subsidiaries, and affiliates.

Accordingly, certain international organizations may file a blanket petition to establish the qualifying intracompany relationship in advance of filing individual L-1 petitions. Though the approval of a blanket petition does not guarantee the grant of L-1 classification to their employees, it allows such organizations to transfer employees to the United States more flexibly and quickly without filing an individual petition.

To qualify to file the blanket petition, the petitioner must satisfy the following conditions:

  • The petitioner is engaged in commercial trade or services;
  • Each of other entities included in the blanket petition is engaged in commercial trade or services;
  • The petitioner has an office in the United States that has been doing business for at least 1 year;
  • The petitioner has 3 or more domestic and foreign branches, subsidiaries, and affiliates; and
  • The other qualifying organizations and the petitioner meet one of the following criteria:
    • Obtained at least 10 L-1 approvals during the previous 12-month period;
    • Have U.S. subsidiaries or affiliates with combined annual sales of at least $25 million; or
    • Have a United States workforce of at least 1,000 employees.

2. How to File an L-1 Petition

Individual L Petition

An employer seeking to transfer its international organization’s employees to one of its offices in the United States or seeking to send employees to establish a new office in the United States must file a L-1 petition on behalf of the intracompany transferees.

Such employees who must present a visa for admission and whose visa will have expired before the date of his/her intended return may use an original Approval Notice of the petition to apply for a new or revalidated visa during the validity period of the petition and to apply for an extension of stay.

If such employees are visa-exempt, they may present a copy of the Approval Notice at a port of entry to facilitate entry into the United States. The employees must retain and present the copy during the validity of the petition for entry and reentry to resume the same employment with the same petitioner and to apply for an extension of stay.

Individual L Petition for Canadian Citizens

An employer seeking to classify a citizen of Canada as an intracompany transferee may file an individual petition together with an application for admission of the Canadian citizen. Such filing may be made with an immigration officer at a Class A port of entry located on the U.S.-Canada land border or at a U.S. pre-clearance/pre-flight station in Canada.2

Blanket L Petition

If USCIS approves the blanket petition, the employer generally needs to complete only a Form I-129S. Petitioners seeking to classify the employee under the approved blanket petition must establish that the employee was employed abroad for 1 of the 3 years prior to the individual petition filing in a qualifying capacity and that the employee will be employed in a qualifying capacity in the United States. Employees may apply for an L-1 visa in the U.S. Consular by presenting the Form I-129S and required documentation within 6 months of the date on the Form I-129S.

Visa-Exempt Employees or Employees Seeking Change of Status under a Blanket L Petition

When the employee is a visa-exempt nonimmigrant seeking L classification under a blanket petition, or when the employee is in the United States and is seeking a change of status from another nonimmigrant classification to L classification under a blanket petition, the petitioner must submit Form I–129S and required documentation to the USCIS office with which the blanket petition was filed.

Canadian Employees with an Approved Blanket Petition

If the employee with an approved blanket petition is a Canadian citizen, the employee may seek admission at a Class A ports-of-entry located on the U.S.-Canada land border or at the U.S. pre-clearance/pre-flight inspection station in Canada. In seeking admission to the United States, the employee needs to present the Form I-129S and supporting documentation to an immigration officer.3

Time of Filing

An employer may not file the L-1 petition with USCIS more than 6 months before the employee’s start date. The petitioner must fulfill all eligibility requirements as of the filing date of the petition.

3. How to Request Premium Processing

An applicant who files for or seeks change of status to L-1 classification (including certain eligible blanket L-1) may request a premium processing for the application by filing a proper Form and filing fee of $2,805 with USCIS.

If the applicant files the request properly, USCIS will take one of the following adjudicative actions within 15 calendar days:

  • Issue an approval notice, a denial notice, a notice of intent to deny, or a request for evidence; or
  • Open an investigation for fraud or misrepresentation

If the L-1 petition requires the submission of additional evidence or a response, the 15-day premium processing time will reset. Once USCIS receives additional evidence or response, a new premium processing time will begin.

4. Required Filing Fee for an L-1 Petition

In general, USCIS filing fees for an L-1 petition consist of the following:

I. Form I-129 (Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker) Filing Fee: $1,385 ($695 for small employers and nonprofits) plus Asylum Program Fee: $600 ($300 for small employers and $0 for nonprofits)

The Form I-129 filing fee applies to the following type of filing:

  • Initial L-1 petition
  • Change of L-1 employers4
  • Petition requesting an L-1 extension
  • Amendment of L-1 petition

This filing fee is non-refundable regardless of the outcome of the petition. The fee is also non-refundable even if the petitioner withdraws the petition.

II. Fraud Prevention and Detection Fee: $500 (if applicable)

The Fraud Prevention and Detection Fee applies to the following types of filing:

  • Initial L-1 petition5
  • Change of L-1 employers

The Fraud Prevention and Detection Fee is not required for the following types of filing:

  • Petition requesting an L-1 extension
  • Amendment of an L-1 petition

III. Public Law 114-113 fee: $4,500 (if applicable)

The Public Law 114-113 fee applies to a company that employs 50 or more employees in the United States and more than 50% of those employees are in H-1B or L-1 nonimmigrant status.

When determining whether a company must pay the Public Law fee, the company must count all its full-time and part-time employees. Employees of related entities will not count. In addition, when calculating the percentage of the employees in H-1B or L-1 status, the company must calculate based on the number of employees it has in the United States, regardless of whether they are paid through a U.S. or foreign payroll.

The fee under Public Law 114-113 is required when the Fraud Prevention and Detection Fee is also required. As such, the Public Law fee applies to the following type of filing:

  • Initial L-1 petition6
  • Change of L-1 employers

The Public Law fee is not required for the following type of filing:

  • Petition requesting an L-1 extension
  • Amendment of L-1 petition

This Public Law fee applies to petitions filed on or after Dec. 18, 2015. The fee is in effect until Sept. 30, 2027.

5. Period of Authorized Stay

In principle, an intracompany transferee on L-1 status will be allowed a maximum initial stay of 3 years. L-1 employees may extend the period of stay up to additional 2 years until they reach the maximum limit. The maximum limit of authorized stay is 7 years for L-1A status and 5 years for L-1B status.

Employees entering the United States to establish a new U.S. office on L-1 status will be allowed a maximum initial stay of 1 year. After the first year, the validity of the new office petition may be extended for the same employees for a period of up to 2 years.7 Once the initial extension of a new office petition is approved, the petitioner is no longer subject to the new office extension provisions. Any future extension filing is treated as a regular individual L extension.

Limitation on the Period of Stay in L-1 Status

The period of stay of an L-1 employee is subject to a limitation as follows:8

  • An L-1 employee who has spent 5 years in the United States in a specialized knowledge capacity or 7 years in the United States in a managerial or executive capacity in H and/or L status (except H-4 and L-2) may not seek extension, change status, or be readmitted to the United States in H or L status (except H-4 and L-2) unless the employee has been outside the United States for at least 1 year.9

Extension of the L-1 Maximum 7-year/5-Year Period of Stay

An L-1 beneficiary may be eligible for an L-1 extension beyond the 7-year (L-1A) or 5-year (L-1B) period in the following situation:

  • Recapture of Time Spent Outside the U.S.: An L-1 beneficiary who spent more than 24 hours physically outside the United States during the validity period of the L-1 may recapture the time spent for the L-1 status or in a subsequent L-1 petition.

Grace Period

10-Day Grace Period

In addition to the validity period of L-1 status, an individual in L-1 status may be admitted to the United States for an additional period of up to 10 days before the validity period begins and 10 days after the validity period ends.

Maximum 60-Day Grace Period

If an individual on L-1 status loses the status due to solely the cessation of the L-1 employment, such an individual may be considered to maintain the status for up to 60 days or until the end of the original authorized period of stay on the L-1 status, whichever is shorter.

Within the 10-day and maximum 60-day grace period, the L-1 visa holders may continue a job search and apply for an extension of stay or change of status. However, such individuals may not work during the grace period unless otherwise authorized. USCIS will determine whether the maximum 60-day grace period applies to each case.

6. Change of Employers

A foreign worker admitted under an approved blanket petition may be reassigned to any organization listed in the approved petition without referral to USCIS during his/her authorized stay if he/she will be performing virtually the same job duties. If the foreign worker will be performing different job duties, the petitioner must complete a new Certificate of Eligibility and send it for approval to the USCIS director who approved the blanket petition.

7. Changes in Employment Conditions

The petitioner must file an amended petition, with fee, at the USCIS office where the original petition was filed to reflect changes in approved relationships, additional qualifying organizations under a blanket petition, change in capacity of employment (i.e., from a specialized knowledge position to a managerial position), or any information which would affect the beneficiary’s eligibility under the L classification.

8. Change of Status

In addition to all the requirements governing the L classification, change of status requests to the L classification from another nonimmigrant classification must establish that: ​

  • The beneficiary entered the United States legally;
  • The beneficiary has never worked in the United States illegally, or otherwise violated the terms of their visa or nonimmigrant status; and
  • The expiration date on the beneficiary’s I-94 has not passed.

9. Family of L-1 Visa Holders

L-1 visa holders’ spouses and unmarried children under the age of 21 may be eligible for the L-2 nonimmigrant classification. Such spouses and children generally will be authorized to stay in the United States for the same period as the L-1 visa holders.

Spouses of L-1 workers in valid L-2S status are considered employment authorized incident to status. Such spouses who are employment authorized incident to status are not required to request employment authorization, but may still file Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization to obtain an Employment Authorization Document (EAD).

Also, certain L spouses qualify for the automatic extension of their EADs for 180 days. To qualify for the automatic extension, they must have timely filed a renewal based on the same L nonimmigrant status and have an unexpired Form I-94 showing their L-2 or L-2S status. Any such automatic extension will terminate automatically on the earlier of:

  • The end of the validity period of the nonimmigrant status, as shown on the Form I-94;
  • The approval or denial of the application to renew the previous EAD using Form I-765; or
  • 180 days from the date of the expiration of the previous EAD.

Disclaimer

  1. A first-line supervisor is not considered to be acting in a managerial capacity merely by virtue of the supervisor’s supervisory duties unless the employees supervised are professional. ↩︎
  2. The employer has an option to file the Form I-129S and supporting documentation with the USCIS service center instead of submitting them directly with the immigration officer. ↩︎
  3. The employer has an option to file the Form I-129S and supporting documentation with the USCIS service center that approved the blanket petition instead of submitting them directly with the immigration officer. ↩︎
  4. In general, the employee does not need to file a Form I-129 if he/she changes employers to the entity listed in an approved blanket petition. ↩︎
  5. Petitioners do not need to pay the Fraud Prevention and Detection Fee and the Pub. L. 114-113 Fee again if filing another petition for the same beneficiary for the same nonimmigrant classification. The Pub. L. 114-113 is also not required with an extension of stay petition if the fee was not in effect at the time of the initial filing. These fees would be required if the beneficiary has been outside of the United States for more than 1 year and the petitioner is requesting a “new” initial grant of L-1 nonimmigrant status, or if the petitioner is filing to employ the beneficiary in a different nonimmigrant classification than the one obtained previously. For example, filing a petition to change a beneficiary’s nonimmigrant status from H-1B to L-1. Petitioners who request revocation of a petition because the beneficiary who held L-1 status left that employer before the expiration date of his or her status do not need to pay the Fraud Prevention and Detection Fee if the petitioner re-files for the same beneficiary at a later date and the petitioner is not requesting a “new” initial grant of the same status. ↩︎
  6. See footnote 1. ↩︎
  7. To extend the validity of the petition for such employees, the petitioner must demonstrate that it satisfies certain requirements, including that the U.S. and foreign entities are still qualifying organizations and the U.S. entity has been doing business, with required documentation. ↩︎
  8. This limitation does not apply to L-1 employees (a) who did not reside continually in the United States and whose employment in the United States was seasonal or intermittent or was for an aggregate of 6 months or less per year or (b) who reside abroad and regularly commute to the United States to engage in part-time employment. ↩︎
  9. A beneficiary who has resided and been physically present outside the United States for at least 1 year may be eligible for a new 6-year period of admission in H-1B status or a new 5-year or 7-year period in L-1 status. USCIS clarified that the time spent as an H-4 and L-2 dependent does not count against the maximum allowable periods of stay available to principals in H-1B and L-1 status. ↩︎

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