The L visa allows qualifying multinational companies with a parent, subsidiary, branch, or affiliate abroad to transfer managers and executives (L-1A) and employees with ”specialized knowledge” (L-1B) to work in the United States. To qualify, the transferee, within the three-year period preceding entry into the United States, must have been employed abroad in an executive, managerial or specialized knowledge capacity by an affiliated entity of the U.S. employer for at least one continuous year. Any time that the transferee spends in the United States will not count toward the one-year employment abroad requirement.

There are three alternatives for pursuing the L-1 visa.

  1. In most cases, the L-1 employer must submit a petition, with the requisite filing fee, to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) and obtain USCIS approval before the transferee is able to apply for a visa at a U.S. consulate abroad or change his/her status to L-1 while lawfully present in the United States. L-1 petitions may be filed requesting premium processing for an additional fee. Premium processing guarantees adjudication of the L-1 petition within 15 days of filing.
  2. Canadian citizens are eligible to submit an L-1 visa petition directly with any Class A port of entry at the U.S./Canadian border. L-1 border petitions are usually processed the same day. As Canadian citizens are visa exempt, they may seek admission into the U.S. in L-1 status immediately after the L-1 petition is approved.
  3. Lastly, certain multinational companies may qualify for an L-1 “Blanket”. Qualifying multinationals that obtain an L-1 Blanket are not required to obtain USCIS approval as a prerequisite to L-1 visa sponsorship. Transferees may apply for an L-1 visa directly with their home U.S. consulate abroad. Applicants must produce evidence to show they meet the one-year employment abroad requirement. In addition, an L-1B specialized knowledge transferee applying through the Blanket program must produce evidence that he or she is a “professional”. In other words, he or she must provide evidence that he or she possesses a U.S. bachelor’s degree or the foreign degree equivalent. L-1B applicants are not required to produce evidence of a U.S. bachelor’s degree or the foreign degree equivalent for non-blanket petitions.

There are strict prohibitions on the placement of L-1B specialized knowledge transferees at third party client sites if (1) the transferee will be principally controlled and supervised by the third party client; or if (2) the arrangement is primarily for providing general labor to the third party client. L-1B transferees may still perform work at third party client sites provided that it can be clearly documented and shown that the L-1 sponsoring employer will retain ultimate authority and maintain full supervision and control over the transferee’s work, and that the work to be performed requires specialized knowledge of the L-1 sponsoring employer’s product or service that is being implemented at the third party client site.

L-1 visa status may be approved for an initial period of up to three years, and can be extended for up to a maximum of seven years for an L-1A (manager or executive) or five years for an L-1B (specialized knowledge). In addition, multinational companies that are in the process of launching a new office in the United States may petition to transfer a managerial or executive employee to the United States for an initial period of one year. L-1 status may be extended for an additional two-year period at the end of the first year term. Once the maximum L-1 period of stay in the U.S. has been reached, the transferee must remain physically outside of the U.S. for a full year before he or she is eligible to return to the U.S. in L -1 (or H-1B) status. However, time spent outside the United States does not count towards the L-1 maximum period of stay and may be recaptured. Employees should retain any documentation that evidences time spent abroad.

Spouses and children of L-1 transferees are eligible for dependent L-2 visas and may be admitted for the same duration of stay as the L-1 principal. L-2 spouses are currently eligible to pursue employment in the United States and have the option to apply for an employment authorization document (EAD).