L1 Visa: What You Need to Know

L-1 Visa: What You Need to Know

Companies that own foreign affiliates regularly send their domestic employees overseas to work. They help carry the culture of the company from the home office to the international site, and they offer the reliability that can be hard to find when hiring locally. When you want to transfer one of your domestic employees to a U. S. affiliate or send someone to the U. S. to start an office, that employee needs to have an L-1 visa.

According to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), the L-1 visa program is a pair of visas for overseas companies to send their employees to the United States to work. The employee can be sent to either work in a previously existing office or to establish an office. There are two classes of L-1 visas: L-1A and L-1B. L1-A is for executives or managers and L-1B is for workers with specialized knowledge.

Qualifications for an L-1 Visa

To qualify for both the L-1A and L-1B visas, an employer needs to:

  • Have a qualifying relationship with a foreign business, such as a branch, affiliate, or subsidiary
  • Do business in the United States as an employer and at least one other country while the employee stays in the U. S.

The qualifications don’t end with the employer. The employee should:

  • Work for the transferring company for at least one year in the last three years
  • Provide “executive or managerial capacity” for the qualifying office in the United States (L-1A)
  • Provide services in a “specialized knowledge capacity” (L-1B)

The USCIS gets specific about important terms in the above:

  • Doing Business: “The regular, systematic, and continuous provision of goods and/or services by a qualifying organization and does not include the mere presence of an agent or office of the qualifying organization in the United States and abroad.”
  • Executive Capacity: “The employee’s ability to make decisions of wide latitude without much oversight.”
  • Managerial Capacity: “The ability of the employee to supervise and control the work of professional employees and to manage the organization” or “to manage an essential function of the organization at a high level, without direct supervision of others.”
  • Specialized Knowledge: “Special knowledge possessed by an individual of the petitioning organization’s... interests and its application in international markets” or “advanced level of knowledge or expertise in the organization’s processes and procedure.”

How To Apply for an L-1 Visa

The company petitions USCIS on behalf of the employee by filing a Form I-129. Along with the form the company needs to provide evidence that backs up the requirements for the L-1 visa including:

  • Evidence of the relationship between the U. S. office and the foreign one
  • Evidence that the employee has been employed for at least one year in the required role in the company
  • A description of the work the employee will do in the United States

If you are starting a new office, the evidence differs slightly for an L-1A and an L-1B visa. Both require that you provide evidence that you have a physical space for the workers. The L-1B requires that you provide evidence you can pay the employee.  L-1A also requires a statement about the nature of the proposed office, the size of the investment in the U. S., and the organizational structure of the foreign entity.

Length of Stay

When establishing a new office, the employee is granted a maximum initial stay of one year while employee transfers to an existing office can get up to three years. At the end of the term, the employee may be extended by up to two years for a limit of seven years (L-1A) or five years (L-1B).

The employee who receives the L-1 visa may also bring a spouse and dependent children, unmarried and under 21 years of age, for the term of the visa. If the spouse or children want to work, they would have to file an application for employment authorization.

Blanket Petitions

Some large businesses petition for several L-1 visas on a regular basis, so the program allows for such companies to file blanket petitions. This streamlines the L-1 approval process, making it easier to transfer an employee on short notice. To file a blanket petition, the business needs to fulfill these requirements:

  • The petitioner’s office should be in existence for a year or more
  • The petitioner has three or more domestic offices
  • The petitioner either obtained 10 L-1 approvals in the last 12 months, annual sales of $25 million in the U. S., or has a workforce of at least 1,000 employees in the U. S.

Once you have been granted blanket L-1 status, you use Form I-129S to petition for the blanket visa.


If you need help obtaining visas for your international team, an International PEO (Professional Employer Organization) can help. Get in touch with us today to learn more.


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