The L-1 visa is a unique type of visa designed to facilitate intra-company transfer. If you work for a company that has a branch, subsidiary, affiliate, or parent company in the United States, then you may qualify for an L-1 visa, also known as the Intra-Company Transfer visa.
This visa has special requirements that not all company employees will meet. The visa isn’t automatically available to all company employees, for example. Only executives, managers, and those with specialized knowledge will be able to take advantage of the L-1 visa.
There’s no specific industry or type of company that can take advantage of the L-1 work visa. Instead, the visa program is available to companies of all sizes across industries – from small tech startups to multinational pharmaceutical corporations. As long as you and your firm meet the qualifications, you should be able to apply for an L-1 visa to work temporarily in the United States.
There are two broad types of L-1 visas:
L-1A Visa for Managers and Executives: This visa is for the intra-company transfer of employees in a managerial or executive position.
L-1B Visa for Employees with Specialized Knowledge: If you have some type of unique specialized knowledge, training, or experience, then you may be eligible for intra-company transfer to the U.S. visa an L-1B visa.
L-1 Visa Requirements
Whether you’re applying for the L-1A or L-1B visa, there are a number of common requirements across both visas, including:
- Have been employed in another country (not the U.S.) for at least one year out of the last three years
- Your current company must have a subsidiary, branch, affiliate, or parent company in the United States
- You must be in a managerial or executive position with your company; or, you must possess specialized knowledge or skills
- You must have received a transfer offer or promotion opportunity to a U.S. branch of your company
- You must be a registered, full-time employee with your current company
How to Apply for the L-1 Visa
Applying for an L-1 visa requires a different set of steps than an ordinary work visa. The other popular work visa, an H-1B work visa, typically requires an employer sponsorship and verification through the U.S. Department of Labor. The L-1 visa process is different. Here’s how it works:
Step 1) Receive a Transfer or Promotion from a Qualified Company
First, you must receive a transfer or promotion from your current company to work at a branch, subsidiary, affiliate, or parent company in the United States. Your new position must be a managerial or executive position. Or, it must require specialized knowledge. Once you have received such an offer, you can move forward with your application.
Step 2) File Form I-129
There are two ways to move forward with a form I-129 petition. A smaller company might move forward with an individual petition, although larger corporations might be better served with blanket petitions.
Individual Petitions: The individual petition allows one employee to file an application for the L-1 visa. The individual petition will include the company filing form I-129, Petition for a Non-Immigrant Worker. The additional L supplement will also need to be filed. Both of these documents will be filed with United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to constitute an official petition. Once the individual L-1 visa petition has been approved, your employer will receive form I-797.
Blanket Petitions: Blanket petitions allow larger companies to file petitions for multiple employees simultaneously, reducing paperwork and expenses. If your corporation wants to transfer multiple employees to the United States, then your employer would file a form I-129S, Non-immigrant Petition Based on L-1 Blanket Petition. This form is filed to USCIS. Once the petition has been filed, the employer will receive form I-797, which can then be used for a number of different employee petitions over a three-year period. Any individuals seeking to enter the United States on an L-1 visa will refer to the company’s form I-797 on future immigration paperwork.
Aside from the first two steps, the remaining steps in the L-1 visa application process are similar to the process for any non-immigrant visa – particularly a work visa.
Step 3) Wait for your Employer to Pay L-1 Visa Fees
Work visas come with a number of different fees. Your company is required to pay all of these fees – your company cannot ask you to pay the fees. Fees that will need to be paid before you proceed include:
Form I-129 Filing Fee: $460
American Competitiveness and Workforce Improvement Act (ACWIA) Fee: $750 (for companies with 25 or fewer full-time employees in the U.S.) or $1500 (for companies with 26 or more full-time employees in the U.S.)
Fraud Prevention and Detection Fee: $500
Fee for Employers with 50 or More Employees, with More than Half of Employees Being Foreign Workers: $4,000
Premium Processing Fee (For Expedited Visa Processing): $1,225
Step 4) File Form DS-160
Form DS-160 is that standard non-immigrant application form used on many visa applications. You can find the form online at your U.S. embassy’s website. Visit the U.S. embassy website in your country of residence to get started. Complete the form online, then keep track of the confirmation page and number for future reference.
Step 5) Schedule your Embassy Interview
After filing form DS-160, you can schedule your interview with a nearby U.S. embassy or consulate.
Step 6) Submit or Collect your Documents
Prior to your embassy interview, you will need to submit or collect documents. These documents may be referenced during your interview. They can determine whether or not you are eligible for an L-1 visa to enter the United States. Typical documents required for an L-1 visa application include:
- Valid passport that expires more than 6 months after your planned date of departure from the United States (your visa expiry date)
- A photograph that abides by U.S. visa photography requirements
- DS-160 confirmation page and barcode
- Visa interview appointment confirmation letter
- Form I-129 and form I-797 (for individual petitions)
- Form I-129S and form I-797 (for blanket petitions)
- A letter from your employer confirming your transfer or promotion, including the duties of your job and your salary
- Proof that you have been employed with the employer for at least 1 year in the past three years
- References and contact information from previous co-workers, supervisors, and managers
- Photographs of your work premises
- A copy of your resume or curriculum vitae (CV)
Step 7) Complete the Interview
Arrive at the U.S. embassy or consulate to complete your interview. Your fingerprints may be collected prior to the interview. During the interview, a member of the consular staff will verify the information on your L-1 visa application. He or she may ask questions about your work, including your specific role with the company. Since the L-1 visa is a dual-intent visa, you do not have to prove your intent to return home after your visa expires. You may have the option to pursue a green card.
How Long Does It Take to Process the L-1 Visa?
The L-1 visa can be processed quickly if your employer pays the premium processing fee. The premium processing fee can reduce application times to as little as 1 to 3 weeks from start to finish.
An ordinary L-1 visa application, however, can take significantly longer. You might need to wait anywhere from 1 to 5 months for your L-1 visa application to be complete.
How Long Does My L-1 Visa Last?
The L-1 visa will last as long as is stated on your visa. Visa expiry dates vary widely depending on your country of origin, your employer, and your position with the company.
Generally, an L-1A visa will last a maximum of 7 years, and an L-1B visa will last a maximum of 5 years.
If your visa does not last 5 or 7 years, then you and your employer can apply for an extension when you’re within a few months of the expiry date.
Can I Change My Immigration Status or Get a Green Card with an L-1 Visa?
The L-1 visa is a non-immigrant visa, which typically means you plan to return to your home country upon completion of your work term.
However, many L-1 visa holders may choose to establish permanent residency in the United States and receive a green card. If you are an L-1 visa holder with specialized knowledge, then you may be eligible for an employer-sponsored immigrant visa.
Can I Bring Dependents to the United States on an L-1 Visa?
The L-1 visa allows holders to bring dependents to the United States, provided those dependents meet certain conditions. If you have a spouse or unmarried child under 21 years of age, for example, then they may be eligible for an L-2 visa.
The L-2 visa allows your dependent to remain in the United States throughout the term of your L-1 visa. Certain L-2 visa holders will be able to work after obtaining an Employment Authorization Document (EAD). L-2 visa holders may also be able to go to school.
To qualify for an L-2 visa, you must meet one of the following two categories:
- Spouse of an L-1 visa holder
- Unmarried child under 21 of an L-1 visa holder
By following the guide above, you can ensure the L-1 visa application process goes smoothly for you and your employer.