1. What is an L-1A Visa?
2. Who Can Receive an L-1A?
3. Annual Limitations of an L-1A Visa
4. Benefits of an L-1A Visa
5. Comparison of L-1A Visa and L1-B Visa
6. Difference Between L-1A Visa and L-1B Visa
7. Conversion from L-1B to L-1A
8. L-1A Visa and L-1B Visa Similarities
9. Maximum Stay on an L-1 Visa
10. When Is an L-1A Not an Option?
11. Eligibility Requirements for an L-1A Visa
12. Form I-129, Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker
13. L-1A Visa Application Process
14. L-2 Visa for Dependents of L-1A Visa Holder
15. Similarities Between an L-1A Visa and an EB-1C Immigration Petition
16. Comparison of L-1 and H-1B Visa
17. FAQs for an L-1A Visa

What is an L-1A Visa?

An L-1A visa is a visa for non-immigrant foreign executives or managers who are being transferred to their company's U.S. offices.

L-1 visas are for intracompany transfer and allow U.S. employers to move an employee in a manager or executive position to an affiliate office in the U.S.

The L-1 can also allow employers to move employees to the U.S. for the purpose of establishing a new branch, subsidiary, or affiliate office there. If the L-1 is granted to an employee who will establish the company in the U.S., the visa will be for only one year. If the company has been established in the U.S. for more than one year, the L-1 recipient will be given a three-year visa.

The employee petitioner for the L-1A visa must have worked at the beneficiary company for at least one year out of the last three years to be eligible for the L-1A visa.

The two types of L-1 visas are the L-1A and L-1B visas.

The application process for an L-1A visa requires that the petitioner provide evidence for foreign employment and the type of work that will be done in the U.S. The majority of L-1A petitioners are granted three years to stay in the U.S. Two-year extensions may be granted to give the employee a total of a seven-year stay in the U.S.

The employee who's granted an L-1A may be able to get their spouse and child an L-1A dependent or L-2 visa. The spouse of an L-1A visa holder may also request work authorization from USCIS to work in the U.S. without restriction.

The L-1A visa is a great way for a company to affordably expand into the U.S.

Often, employees enter the U.S. on L-1A visas and then apply for permanent residence in the U.S. through the EB1-C program. This is one of the best and easiest ways to gain an immigrant visa (also called a green card).

The U.S. branch of the foreign company can be a child company or sister company to their foreign counterpart. The company may also be a non-profit, religious, or charitable organization.

Who Can Receive an L-1A?

To receive an L-1A visa, the employee must fit into either the role of executive or manager. The definitions of who is considered an executive and a manager are very strict. A manager and executive must plan, organize, direct, and control the major functions of a business and work through other employees to achieve the goals of the organization.

An executive is defined as someone who:

  • Directs the management of the organization or a major component of the organization.

  • Establishes the goals and policies of the organization.

  • Can exercise great latitude in discretionary decision making.

  • Receives minimal or general supervision from higher-level executives, the board of directors, or stockholders.

  • Can make large decisions with minimal oversight.

  • May manage but not execute a certain function of the business.

A manager is defined as someone who:

  • Manages the organization or a department or component within the organization.

  • Supervises the work of other managerial, supervisory, and professional employees.

  • Has the authority to hire, fire, and recommend necessary personnel actions.

  • Exercises discretion over day-to-day operations of the business. A supervisory role is only considered a manager if the employees being managed are professional.

At the most basic, the executive or manager must have a supervisory role of professional staff or a key function in a department or subset of the business.

A detailed description of the role of the executive or manager must be included with the L-1A visa application.

A person with the title of manager or executive who does the primary tasks of the business is not considered a manager or executive for the L-1A visa. These people would be considered a staff officer or specialist.

It isn't enough to just have the title of "manager" or "executive." The employee must fill the defined role of management or executive to be eligible for an L-1A visa. Even ownership of a business may not technically qualify someone for the L-1A visa.

The majority of a manager's or executive's duties should be related to the operational management of the business, not the supervision of low-level employees.

Annual Limitations of an L-1A Visa

There are NO annual limits on the number of L-1A visas available each year. There are NO wage requirements for L-1A visa applicants.

Benefits of an L-1A Visa

There are many benefits of the L-1A visa program, to both the employee and the company.

Company Benefit

The L1-A visa is highly beneficial to small or start-up companies. The L-1A visa makes it easy and affordable for a small company to send a proficient manager to the U.S. to open or maintain an overseas branch of the company.

To bring over a manager that is already trained with the company's specialized knowledge makes expansion of the business faster and easier. The manager can set up the child company to meet the goals and objectives set forth by the parent company.

Smaller companies would be wise to consult with an immigration lawyer prior to applying for an L-1 visa. Lesser-known companies applying for an L-1 visa are likely to be more heavily scrutinized by the USCIS.

Multinational Company

A multinational company will be highly benefitted by the L-1 visa program. The L-1 visa program lets a multinational company bring in employees from around the world when establishing an office. It allows for the movement of employees from office to office and country to country to make sure the employees understand how the different locations work.

Movement of employees and ideas can also encourage innovation and business improvement. This is easier to do with the opportunities provided by the L-1 visa process.

Benefits to the L-1A Visa Recipient

The recipient of the L-1A visa who moves to the U.S. may find the following benefits:

  • The visa holder may work, live, and travel legally within the U.S.

  • Dependents of the visa holder may accompany the visa holder to the U.S.

  • The L-1A visa holder may be able to apply for permanent residence in the U.S. without losing their L-1 status.

  • When applying for permanent residence, the L-1 holder won't have to wait for a visa number after green card approval is received.

  • Helps their company to establish a branch in the U.S.

Comparison of L-1A Visa and L1-B Visa

The L-1A and L-1B visa are both visas that allow a foreign citizen to come to the U.S. to work at their employer's U.S. offices or to open a new U.S. office.

L-1A Executive or Management

This category L-1 visa specifically allows a company to send an executive or manager to the U.S. to run or start a subsidiary company of the business.  

L-1B Specialized Knowledge Staff

This category of L-1 visa covers employees with specialized knowledge in a company's products, services, research, systems, proprietary techniques, management, or procedures. The L-1B visa is initially granted for three years but can be extended for a total of five.

L-1 Blanket Visa

This L-1 visa is a special provision for companies that frequently use the L-1 visa program and are large multinational organizations.

Under this provision, a company only needs one approval from USCIS to transfer a set number of managers, executives, and professional employees.

Difference Between L-1A Visa and L-1B Visa

Who's Eligible

The major difference between an L-1A visa and an L-1B visa is that different types of employees are eligible for them. The L-1A is for executives and managers. The L-1B is for employees with specialized knowledge.

Length of Stay

Another difference between the L-1A and the L-1B is the maximum length of stay between the visas. The L-1A allows the visa holder to stay in the U.S. for a maximum of seven years. The L-1B visa allows the visa holder to stay in the U.S. for a maximum of five years.

Eligibility for Permanent Residency in the U.S.

L-1A visa holders may file for permanent residency and a green card in the EB1 category. The EB1 category means that the L-1A visa holder can avoid completing the Permanent Labor Certification. This can speed up the green card process so that the L-1A visa holder has their green card within a year.

L-1B visa holders may apply for permanent residency or a green card in the U.S, but they must complete the Permanent Labor Certification. This means that the L-1B visa holder's green card application is filed under the EB2 category. This type of permanent residence application may take years to process.

Conversion from L-1B to L-1A

An L-1B visa holder can apply and petition to change their L-1B to an L-1A visa. The application must be approved before four-and-a-half years of the L-1B visa's five-year maximum stay has been completed.

L-1A Visa and L-1B Visa Similarities

The many similarities between the L-1A and L-1B visas include the following:

L-1 Visa Dependents

The spouse and children under 21 of an L-1 visa holder may accompany them to the U.S. L-2 visa holders may apply for authorization to work in the U.S.

Allow for Dual Intent

Dual intent means that an L-1 visa holder can have the intent to keep his L-1 visa status while applying for permanent residency. The green card application will not jeopardize the L-1 visa holder's status as an L-1 visa worker.

Approval from Department of Labor

The Department of Labor doesn't have to approve of L-1A or L-1B workers working in the U.S. because both types of L-1 visa holders are specialized workers.

Temporary Work Visas

Both the L-1A and the L-1B visa are temporary work visas. The L-1 visas aren't the same as the H-1B visas.

Some temporary workers are hired under H-1B visas. There are many similarities, but also many differences between the L-1 and H-1B visa programs.

Maximum Stay on an L-1 Visa

Once an employee has reached the maximum length of an L-1 visa, which is seven years for an L-1A visa and five years for an L-1B visa, they must leave the U.S. for at least one year. After one year outside the U.S., the employee can apply again.

When Is an L-1A Not an Option?

An employee visiting the U.S. for a conference, to attend meetings, or participate in training isn't eligible for an L-1 visa. L-1 visas are for individuals involved in regular and systematic work with a company in the U.S.

Eligibility Requirements for an L-1A Visa

To be eligible for an L-1A visa, an employee must:

  • Be considered either an executive or a manager under the strict guidelines set forth by the L-1 program.

  • The employee must have worked for the company for at least one continuous year in the prior three years to coming to the U.S.

  • The employment must have been in an executive or manager role.

Full-time employment by the company isn't required for the L-1A visa holder to retain his visa and L-1 status. But, the employee must dedicate a large portion of time on a regular and systematic basis with the company.

It is OK for the L-1A visa holder to split their work for the company between the U.S. and their home country.

Form I-129, Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker

Once a company is certain that it is eligible and its employee is eligible, it's time to file the forms. Form I-129 is a Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker. This must be filed by the company on the employee's behalf. Once that form is filed, the employee can file for an L-1A or L-1B visa.

L-1A Visa Application Process

Both the employee and employer are involved in an L-1A application process. These are the steps:

  1. Employer completes Form I-129 along with paying the filing fees.

  2. Obtain the receipt number for the Form I-129.

  3. Complete online Form DS-160.

  4. Make and attend a visa interview appointment, being sure to bring all required documents to the interview.

L-2 Visa for Dependents of L-1A Visa Holder

The L-2 visa is specifically for the dependents (such as spouse and children) of an L-1A visa holder so they may accompany them to the U.S. The L-2 visa is valid only as long as the L-1A visa is valid.

Similarities Between an L-1A Visa and an EB-1C Immigration Petition

The L-1A visa closely resembles the EB-1 Multinational Executive and Manager category in the employment-based green card application.

Because of those similarities, most people who qualify for an L-1A visa also qualify for permanent residency in the U.S. without applying for Labor Certification. Not having to apply for Labor Certification can save years on the application process for permanent residency in the U.S.

This isn't the case for L-1B visa holders. L-1B visa holders are not eligible for this type of green card petition.

Other similarities are:

  • EB-1 and L-1A require a qualifying relationship between the petitioning U.S. company where the applicant will work and the foreign company where the applicant has worked.

  • The transferring employee must be a manager or executive.

  • The transferring employee must have worked for the foreign entity for at least one continuous year in the past three years.

Comparison of L-1 and H-1B Visa

U.S. employers often need highly skilled, temporary workers. Employers have the option of using H-1 or L-1 visas to bring those workers to the U.S. The H-1 and L-1 visas are similar, but not quite the same.

Similarities

Both the L-1 and H-1B are temporary work visas for foreign nationals.

Both the L-1 and the H-1B allow dual intent for the visa holder. Dual intent allows the foreign worker to apply for a green card without jeopardizing their visa status. The green card application will also not affect the foreign workers future chance of extending their visa. The visa holder also doesn't have to prove ties to their home country.

Differences

The H-1 and L-1 visas are similar, but there are more differences than similarities.

Employer

  • L-1: The L-1 visa must be applied for by the foreign worker's employer. It's also required that the employee has worked for that employer for at least one year in the last three years before they're eligible for an L-1 visa. The L-1 visa holder must work for the employer who petitioned for the L-1 visa the entire time they remain in the U.S. on L-1 visa status.

  • H-1B: The H-1B visa is not employer-dependent. The H-1B visa holder can be hired by any U.S. employer.

Quota

  • L-1: There is NO limit to the number of L-1 visas that can be granted annually.

  • H-1B: Only 65,000 H-1B visas are granted each year. The H-1B visa cap resets on April 1 and workers must begin work by October 1. With a few exceptions:

    • There are 6,800 visas for Chile and Singapore nationals.

    • There are 20,000 visas for recent master's degree graduates.

Prevailing Wage

  • L-1: Extremely low wages can cause problems with an L-1 visa, but there is no prevailing wage requirement.

  • H-1B: An employee working in the U.S. on an H-1B visa must be paid, at the minimum, the prevailing wage.

Payroll

  • L-1: The employee can be paid through the payroll at the U.S. company or the foreign company. It's also possible the employee only receives an allowance in the U.S.

  • H-1B: An employee on an H-1B visa must be on the payroll of a U.S. company.

Spouse

  • L-1: A spouse of an L-1 visa holder is given an L-2 visa which grants permission to work in the U.S.

  • H-1B: A spouse of an H-1B visa holder is given an H-4 visa. The H-4 visa is NOT eligible to work legally in the U.S.

Approval from Department of Labor

  • L-1: An L-1 visa holder does NOT need approval from the U.S. Department of Labor to work.

  • H-1B: An H-1B visa holder does need approval from the U.S. Department of Labor to work. An application must be submitted by the hiring company.

Blanket Petition

  • L-1: Available.

  • H-1B: NOT available.

Minimum Education Requirement

  • L-1: An L-1 visa holder does NOT need a specific type of degree or any degree at all.

  • H-1B: An H-1B visa holder MUST have at least a bachelor's degree or a degree of equal value. The job must be in the specialty area that requires a similar degree.

Maximum Duration

  • L-1: The maximum stay in the U.S. is seven years for an L-1A visa and five years for an L-1B visa. The time spent in the U.S. on an L-1 visa counts towards the maximum time allowed on an H-1B visa.

  • H-1B visa: The maximum stay in the U.S. is six years on an H-1B visa. Time spent in the U.S. on an H-1B visa counts towards the maximum time allowed on an L-1 visa.

Green Card

  • L-1: PERM certification is needed for L-1B visa holders, who then must wait for their green card. PERM certification is NOT needed for L-1A holder who will receive their green card within a year of filing their application.

  • H-1B: An H-1B visa holder will likely need PERM certification to get their green card.

FAQs for an L-1A Visa

  • Who qualifies for an L-1A visa?

An employee who is considered a manager or an executive of a company qualifies for an L-1A visa.

  • Who qualifies as a manager under the L-1A visa guidelines?

Under the L-1A visa guidelines, a manager is defined as someone who:

  • Manages an organization or a major department within an organization.
  • Supervises and controls the work of supervisory staff.
  • Manages essential functions of the organization.
  • Has the authority to hire and fire other employees.
  • Exercises discretion over day-to-day functions of the organization.
  • Who qualifies as an executive under the L-1A guidelines?

Under the L-1A visa guidelines, an executive is defined as someone who:

  • Directs the management of an organization.
  • Establishes the goals and policies of the organization.
  • Can exercise great latitude when making discretionary decisions.
  • Receives minimal directions and only then from higher-level executives, board members, and stockholders.
  • Is there a minimum of education required for an L-1A visa?

There is no such requirement.

  • If I receive an L-1A visa, can my spouse and children join me in the U.S.?

Yes. The spouse and dependents, children under the age of 21, can join the visa holder and typically get what is called an L-2 visa.

If you have an employee who you need to transfer to a U.S.-based office, post your job for one of UpCounsel's highly trained immigration lawyers to help you easily apply for an L-1A visa.