Updated November 24, 2020:

L1 Visa

The L1 visa refers to the transferring of someone from a foreign country to the United States who works in an exclusive, managerial, or specialized field for employment purposes. With this visa, the foreign employee is being transferred from one office to another office in the United States with the same employer, but a different branch or affiliate of the company that employed them.

With the L1 visa, if the foreign worker has a spouse or minor children (someone younger than 21 years of age), they are permitted to have the L2 visa for family members. The person who has the L1 visa is referred to as an “intracompany transferee”. Although the L1 visa was created for giant, international corporations to transfer their foreign employees to the United States, this visa can now be used by smaller businesses and startups. Foreign workers from any country are eligible for the L1 visa so long as they meet and comply with all of the visa requirements.

 It is very common for companies in the United States to recruit temp workers with a unique set of skills. Several different temporary work visas can be used to do this including H1B, L1, L1A, and L1B. Although the H1B and L1 visas have some similarities, they also have unique qualities. As far as similarities go, L1 and H1B both have dual intent and are both temporary visas. While a foreign worker is holding the L1 visa, they can apply for a green card if they wish to do so and it will not cause complications with the current visa.

Under the L1A visa, a company can transfer anyone in an executive or managerial position to a United States headquarters and allow them to live in the country for a maximum of seven years. Under the L1B visa, someone with specialized knowledge can be transferred to the United States to live and work in the country for a total of 5 years. A worker can only qualify for the L1 visa if they have already worked for the same employer in another country for a minimum of one year.

L1A Executives and Managers

Anyone applying for the L1 visa for a management or executive position must comply with very rigid regulations and provide a descriptive outline of their job duties. Basically, the visa applicant needs to have management responsibilities and be able to oversee a staff or play an important role in some sort of supervisory position for a department. In most cases, the L1A visa is granted for a period of three years. If the employee is going to stay in the United States for the job longer, the visa can be extended up to two years at a time for a maximum of seven years total.

L1B Specialized Knowledge Staff

This visa is for foreign workers with a specialized skill set or specialized knowledge of procedures, techniques, management, products, services, systems, or research.  Usually, this visa is granted for a three-year period but it can be increased to a max of five years. For someone to qualify for the L1 visa, they must have worked an entire year for the same employer outside of the country before coming to the United States

The Two Procedures for L1 Visas

L1 Regular and L1 Blanker are the two kinds of L1 Visas.

The Regular L1 visa is obtained through the USCIS and the individual applicant must submit information to be approved for one. In addition to the individual’s employee’s application, the employer has to file a petition with the USCIS.

The Blanket LA is a visa that is used by any company that employs a large number of intracompany transferees yearly.  Before a company can apply for this visa, the USCIS must have already approved the company. This means that after the approval, the individual doesn’t have to do anything other than file a copy of the blanket petition with some supporting documents.

The Application Process for the L1 Visa

A petition must be filed with the USCIS (United States Citizenship and Immigration Services). A petition is filed on Form I-129 and supporting documents must be attached.  These documents need to show that all standards for the company have been met.  Once the application has been submitted at either an embassy or a consulate, the applicant’s minor children and/or spouses are eligible to receive L2 visas.  Minor children of the L1 visa holder are also permitted to attend school in the United States.

To begin the application process for an L1 visa, the applicant needs to first submit form I-129 to the USCIS. After filing this form, the applicant must go to a United States embassy in the country they reside in to be granted a visa.  If the applicant is in the United States when they file form I-129, they will need to request a change of status.  Once form I-129 is filed, I-797 Notice of Action is the document that shows that the petition for a visa has been approved. This does not, however, guarantee an issued visa. In most cases, though, the consular will determine that the applicant is qualified so long as the company they are going to work for is legitimate.

Employer Information

The petition for an L1 visa has to be filed by the employer of the foreign country and can only be done once the employee has worked for the company for a minimum of one year. This differs from the H1B visa, since the H1B permits a United States employer to directly hire the foreign applicant, so long as any other visa requirements were met.


There is no limitation on the number of L1 visas that could be issued. The H1B visa, however, does have a quota. This cap is for 20,000 master's degree graduates from the United States.

Education Requirements

There are no specific degree requirements an applicant has to fulfill to obtain the L1 visa. This differs from the H1B visa which requires applicants to have a bachelor’s degree or the equivalent of one.

Time Limits

The L1a visa expires after seven years and the L1B visa expires after five years. Currently, there are no extensions allowed for either type of visa.  H1B lasts for six years. In rare cases, the H1B might be able to be extended beyond the 6-year limit.

Green Card

If the LA visa worker wishes to obtain a green card, they need to do so in the EB1C category so they won’t have to file a PERM labor certification (so long as they pursue the green card). The green card is typically granted in a year or less. A company employing the visa holder most likely needs to obtain a PERM labor certification before the visa holder could get a green card. This applies to visa holders who have either the L1B visa or the H1B visa.

Part-time Work

Although an L1 visa holder does not need to be employed full-time to maintain their visa, they do need to commit a sizable amount of time to the United States company that employs them. With that said, the visa holder can work full-time both in the United States and in another country while their visa is still active. If a foreign worker is working in the United States by attending conferences, going to business meetings, or doing any other company worker that isn’t confined to a set schedule, this does not usually qualify for the L1 visa.

Reasons why a Visa Might be Denied

The consular, the person reviewing the visa application, could determine that an L1 visa can’t be granted if the company doesn’t meet certain qualifications. If the company seems fraudulent, this is also the basis to deny a visa application. And if the foreign worker doesn’t meet the standards of the Immigration and Naturalization Act, the visa could be denied. Lastly, the consular might even ask that the USCIS reconsider the petition altogether.

Dual Intent Allowed

Although this is the case for certain visas provided to non-immigrants, the L1 visa doesn’t deny or penalize a foreign worker with the visa who is also planning to immigrate to the United States.

Renewing an L1 Visa

There are opportunities to renew the L1 visas. To do this, the applicant must file a new I-129 petition unless it is a blanket petition. Only the status is being renewed once this file is petitioned, not the actual visa. To renew the visa, the applicant needs to visit a United States embassy or consulate in the country they are currently in (not the United States). If a foreign worker decided to leave the United States and tries to come back when they do not have an L1 visa that is currently active, they are not allowed to reenter. To get a new visa issued, they will need to go to a consulate and speak to a consular officer in person.  Going through this process is often very difficult because once the visa holder leaves the United States, they have to go to a different country to get their visa renewed.  There are also certain periods of time through the year that are especially busy at certain embassies and consulates and that means the renewal process could take many more weeks than usual.

How Easy Is It To Get An L1 Visa?

The whole point of the L1 visa is to permit foreign employees of a United States company to be transferred from their original branch to the branch in the United States. To begin, the employee has to file the L1 application. The worker is not able to do this. The application is submitted to the USCIS and reviewed by this entity. There are instances when the USCIS will grant blanket L1 visas. This means that the company will have a set number of blank visas that can be distributed to employees who will be transferred to the United States to work. Keep in mind that every visa application takes a certain amount of energy and time and that applies to the L1 visa. There will be plenty of legal documents to review, forms to fill out, and additional paperwork to read. All of this will need to be done within the six months and 45 days before the request start date. Even though all of this paperwork and the entire application process itself could take you several months, working with an attorney who specializes specifically in immigration could help you significantly cut down on time and effort.  For L1 visa petitions, there is a premium process available. This means that a fee is paid by your employer (set at $1,225) and the case will be adjudicated by the government in less than 15 days. And what this means is that the USCIS will generally approve the petition in that 15 day period.

It is common for a foreign national to change their current L1 visa to the H1B visa once they are in the United States. The L1 intracompany transferee visa petition is designed to be one of the simplest, most accommodating visas for applicants and permits business owners to operate their business internationally. If you own a business that is not in the United States and has been operating it for a year or more, you can open your business in the United States once you have obtained the L1 visa.

Need additional information related to the L1 visa and how you can cut down on the time it takes to obtain it or another type of visa? Don’t hesitate to post your legal need on UpCounsel’s marketplace. UpCounsel accepts only the top 5 percent of lawyers to its site. Lawyers on UpCounsel come from law schools such as Harvard Law and Yale Law and average 14 years of legal experience, including work with or on behalf of companies like Google, Menlo Ventures, and Airbnb.