The L-1 visa permits foreign companies to transfer managers, executives or employees with specialized knowledge to the company’s U.S. branch, subsidiary, parent, affiliate or joint venture-partner.
The L-1 visa can be used by individuals and companies that already have a pre-exiting business operation in the U.S. or individuals/companies who wish to establish a business in the United States. As such, the L-1 visa is often the visa of choice for established companies that have a presence in the U.S., companies seeking to set up operations in the U.S., and entrepreneurs who wish to open a business in the U.S.
A qualifying relationship between the foreign company and U.S. company must exist. A qualifying relationship exists if the U.S. company is a parent, subsidiary, 50/50 joint venture partner, branch, or affiliate of the foreign company. In essence, for two companies to have a qualifying relationship, the U.S. and foreign business entities should have the same owners (i.e. directors, partners, shareholders, etc.).
Foreign Company Must Continue its Operations Abroad
The foreign company must continue to do business outside of the United States. Thus, during the term of the non-immigrant’s L-1 status, the foreign company may not close all of its non-U.S. operations. The company may relocate its non-U.S. operations, however. For example, a company with its main operation in India and a branch office in the U.S. may move its Indian operations to Canada after conducting an L-1 transfer. Such relocation is authorized as long as the company maintains an office outside of the United States.
Transferee Must Have Worked Outside of the U.S.for the Foreign Company for at Least One Year within the Three Years Preceding the Request for Admission into the U.S.
For a transferee to be eligible for an L-1 visa, he or she must have held an executive or managerial role in the company, or a position requiring specialized knowledge. The transferee must have held such a position with the foreign company for at least one full year, without interruption, within the three years immediately preceding the L-1 visa application date.
Transferee Must Have Had an Executive Post, Managerial Position, or Position Requiring Specialized Knowledge within the Foreign Company
As noted above, to be eligible for an L-1 visa the transferee must have held an executive or managerial role in the company or a position requiring specialized knowledge. The details of this particular requirement are discussed below:
You will be considered an executive for L-1 purposes if you manage the entire foreign company or particular division of the company. For example, a Chief Executive Officer (CEO) or Chief Financial Officer (CFO) would typically be an executive for L-1 purposes.
It is important to note, however, that one’s title alone is not determinative of whether U.S. immigration officials or the USCIS will consider an L-1 beneficiary an executive. If you do not have broad decision-making authority within your division, you are involved in the physical production of goods within the company, or you do not actually supervise higher level staff, you will likely not be considered an executive for L-1 purposes.
To qualify as a manger for L-1 purposes, you must manage and direct the day-to-day operations of the foreign company or a division within the foreign company.
Your duties as a manager must involve the oversight and supervision of lower level managers and/or professional level employees within the foreign company. Thus, first-line supervisors – supervisors who, on an organizational level, are immediately above non-managerial workers – are not eligible for L-1 visas as a manager since they do not supervise other managers. However, first-level supervisors do qualify for a L-1 visa if, despite not being responsible for the management of lower level managers, their job is to manage a division of professionals within the company, such as the management of a division of accountants, lawyers, software development professionals or engineers for example.
It is possible to qualify as a manager even if you do not actually supervise other employees. Under the current federal regulations, you may qualify as an L-1 manager if you are a senior level employee and manage a function that is essential to the foreign company.
Employees with Specialized Knowledge
Members of the company who are considered to have specialized knowledge pertaining to the business may qualify for an L-1 visa. An employee with specialized knowledge is someone who has superior and advanced knowledge pertaining to the company’s product, services, procedures, and/or intellectual property, including trade secrets.
Under the federal regulations, a transferee who is seeking an L-1 visa based on the specialized knowledge qualification must meet the following requirements:
1. Superior and advanced knowledge pertaining to the company’s product, services, procedures, and intellectual property, including trade secrets;
2. Possesses knowledge that is valuable to the employer’s competitiveness in the marketplace;
3. The employee is especially qualified to contribute to the U.S. employer’s knowledge of foreign operation conditions;
4. The employee has been a key employee somewhere other than in the United States, with significant assignments that have enhanced the employer’s productivity, competitiveness, image, or financial position
5. The employee has special knowledge that can typically only be gained through extensive prior experience with the employer
6. Where the foreign national has specialized knowledge of the company or product, the knowledge must be noteworthy or uncommon
7. Where the foreign national has knowledge of company processes or procedures, the knowledge must be advanced
8. The foreign national’s knowledge must be different from or surpass the ordinary or usual knowledge of an employee in the particular field, and must have been gained through significant prior experience with the foreign company
Entering the U.S. to Work as a Manager, Executive or Employee with Specialized Knowledge
To qualify for an L1 visa, you must be entering the U.S. to work as a manager, executive or specialized knowledge employee, as defined above, for the U.S. company.
Your L-1 status will be granted initially for one to three years, and you may extend your status in two year increments.
If you enter the U.S. as a manager or executive, you will be entering the U.S. as what is referred to as an L-1A visa-holder. Those who enter the U.S. as an employee with specialized knowledge are referred to as L-1B visa-holders. An L-1A visa-holder may stay in the U.S. for up to 7 years while an L-1B transferee may reside in the U.S. for no more than 5 years.
Unlike with most other non-immigrant visas, the accompanying spouse entering the United States with the L-1 visa-holder may work in the U.S. upon receiving employment authorization.