L-1B Visa: Everything You Need to Know
The L-1B visa is a nonimmigrant visa allowing a foreign company to send an employee with specialized knowledge to work at a branch of their company in the U.S. 16 min read
What Is an L-1B Visa?
The L-1B visa is a nonimmigrant visa that allows a foreign company to send an employee with specialized knowledge to work at a branch of their company in the United States. L-1B visa recipients can work in the U.S. for up to five years.
There's no limit on the number of L-1B visas given out annually and no minimum wage requirements.
The L-1B visa can be used for an employee to work in the U.S. at an established branch of a foreign company or to establish a new branch of a foreign company.
Eligibility Requirements of an L-1B Visa
There are many requirements that must be met before an employee can be awarded an L-1B visa and work in the U.S. Those requirements are:
The employee must work for the foreign company for at least one continuous year within the past three years prior to working at the foreign company's affiliate in the U.S.
The employee must demonstrate specialized knowledge of the company's products, services, research, techniques, management, or other interest.
If using a blanket L-1 visa, the applicant must be a specialized knowledge professional.
To be eligible for an L-1B visa, the employee must demonstrate specialized knowledge about the company they work for. This might include specialized information about the company's services, products, equipment, management, techniques, or procedures.
An L-1B recipient must also be a member of their profession. For example, the employee should be a lawyer, a physician, an architect, an engineer, or a teacher.
The L-1B recipient must be able to demonstrate advanced knowledge in his or her profession. This knowledge must specifically relate to the business of his or her employer.
If the L-1B visa recipient is moving to the U.S. to establish a new office, the employer must prove a few things to maintain eligibility for the L-1B visa. The employer must prove:
That he has physical premises for which to establish the office.
That he has the financial ability to pay new employees who work for the business in the U.S.
That he has filed the L-1B visa petition on his employee's behalf.
The L-1B visa application must be filed at the service center that has jurisdiction over where the visa recipient will be working.
Benefits of an L-1B Visa
The L-1B visa gives many benefits to both the recipient of the L-1B visa and the employer of the L-1B visa recipients.
An L-1B visa holder may work, live, and travel throughout the U.S.
Dependents of an L-1B visa holder may join them in the U.S.
The L-1B visa holder may apply for permanent residency in the U.S.
A foreign company can establish a branch or affiliate of their company in the U.S.
Application Process for the L-1B Visa
The following steps are the general process for applying for an L-1B visa:
Employer completes and submits Form I-129 and L supplement
Obtain a receipt for submission of Form I-129 and retain the receipt number
Complete online Form DS-160
Set up and attend appointment for L-1B visa interview, bringing all required documents
Receipt of approval or denial
Period of Stay for L-1B Visa
L-1B visa holders can remain in the U.S. for a maximum of five years. The initial grant of an L-1B visa is three years, which can be renewed for another two.
If the L-1B visa recipient is moving to the U.S. to establish a new office, the initial grant of the L-1B visa is one year instead of three.
If the employee must spend time working outside the country while on an L-1B visa, that time can be recaptured to the five-year maximum stay.
While working off-site, the L-1B visa holder must remain under the control and supervision of the original employer and petitioner of the L-1B visa. Evidence must be available to prove that this is the case.
Converting an L-1B Visa into an L-1A Visa
L-1B visa holders might consider converting their L-1B visa into an L-1A visa. An L-1A visa is generally granted for executives and managers. The L-1A visa offers a longer period of stay and other benefits to visa holders.
The petition to change from an L-1B visa to an L-1A visa must be approved prior to the employee having worked in the U.S. for four-and-a-half years.
Changing Employers on an L-1B Visa
Because the L-1B visa is employer-based, it's not possible for an employee to change their employer while on an L-1B visa.
It is possible for the L-1B visa holder to apply and change to an H-1 visa. The H-1 visa is employer-independent, meaning the employee can change their employer on an H-1 visa.
If the L-1B holder's duties change, or he or she is transferred to another employer while on an L-1B visa, the L-1B visa holder can file an amended petition.
If an L-1B visa holder received their visa under an L-1 blanket application, the L-1B visa holder can transfer from one employer to another as long as both employers are listed on the original blanket petition. As long as the employee's duties remain similar, an amended petition isn't required.
L-2 Visa for Dependents of an L-1B Visa Holder
For the spouse and children of an L-1B visa holder to come to the U.S., they're granted an L-2 visa. The L-2 visa is only for the dependents of an L-1B visa holder. The L-2 visa only grants the dependents the ability to remain in the U.S. with the L-1B visa holder.
Time spent on an L-2 visa doesn't count towards time spent on an L-1 visa. A spouse who arrives on an L-2 visa can switch to an L-1 visa and still have five years of eligibility. A spouse on an L-1 visa can also switch to an L-2 visa.
An L-2 visa holder may apply for work authorization but may not work without that authorization. A child on an L-2 visa may attend school full-time.
Defining Specialized Knowledge for the L-1B Visa
An employee with specialized knowledge is eligible for an L-1B visa. Defining what constitutes "specialized knowledge" can be difficult to understand. An immigration attorney can be of great benefit when applying for and choosing eligible employees for the L-1B visa.
What defines an employee working in a "specialized knowledge capacity" is laid out in section 214(c)(2) of the Immigration and Nationality Act.
"An alien is considered to be serving in a capacity involving specialized knowledge with respect to a company if the alien has a special knowledge of the company product and its application in international markets or has an advanced level of knowledge and processes and procedures of the company."
In simple terms, this statement means that the employee must possess knowledge of the business that is special, that not every employee has.
USCIS continues to refine the definition of specialized knowledge as knowledge of a company's "product, service, research, equipment, techniques, management, or other interests and its application in international markets, or an advanced level of knowledge or expertise in the organization's processes and procedures."
To qualify for an L-1B visa, the applicant must have worked with the company in a capacity that requires specialized knowledge for at least one year in the last three years.
USCIS 2015 Definition of Specialized Knowledge
On August 17, 2015, USCIS released a Policy Memorandum titled "L-1B Adjudications Policy."
The memorandum clarified some points on the definition of specialized knowledge. It said that specialized knowledge must be "distinct or uncommon in comparison to that generally found in the particular industry."
The memorandum also added to the definition of advanced knowledge, defining it as "greatly developed or further along in progress, complexity, and understanding than that generally found within the employer."
Looking at each piece together, it's understood that specialized knowledge doesn't have to be unique knowledge. But, specialized knowledge must be high-level and uncommon within the industry. The knowledge doesn't have to be uncommon within the L-1 visa applicant's company but should be above normal knowledge for the industry as a whole.
To demonstrate that the knowledge held by the L-1B visa applicant is also advanced, the applicant must show that their knowledge is uncommon within their company as well.
The burden to prove that specialized knowledge is held by the employee applying for L-1B visa status is on the company submitting the application. But, the company must only prove that the employee is more eligible than ineligible.
USCIS is instructed to look at these factors:
Can the applicant's knowledge be gained only through experience with their employer?
Does the applicant have knowledge of a product or process that's difficult to transfer?
Does the applicant have knowledge of a product or process that's complex or highly technical?
Does the applicant have knowledge that keeps the company competitive?
To prove and answer these questions, the applicant and company can provide extensive documentation and evidence.
Documentation that should be considered for inclusion in the L-1B visa application:
Documentation of the applicant's training, work experience, and education.
Proof that the applicant would benefit the company.
Evidence that shows that the applicant can work with the specialized knowledge.
Documentation that proves that the applicant's knowledge can only be gained from the company.
Off-Site Employment of an L-1B Visa Holder
There are times when an L-1 visa holder might need to be stationed at a worksite that isn't owned by the employer listed on their L-1 visa. The following scenarios show where this situation could be in violation of the L-1 visa and cause the visa to be lost.
If the employee will be mainly supervised by an unaffiliated employer.
If the employee is providing labor for hire to an unaffiliated employer.
The L-1 visas only allow for work with the specialized knowledge capacity. This means that an L-1 visa holder could work off-site with another company, as long as they're being managed by the employer listed on their visa. This can be proven through documentation that the employer listed on the L-1 visa has authority to dictate how the L-1B visa holder performs his duties.
The employer listed on the L-1B visa should also be the employer in charge of the L-1B visa holder's salary and benefits.
The L-1B visa holder can work off-site, as long as they're working in connection with the product or service for which they have specialized knowledge.
Further Understanding Specialization
Employees with specialized knowledge should be understood to be a small percentage of employees. An employee with specialized knowledge has more skills or knowledge than an ordinary employee. This doesn't require extraordinary skills, just skills that are above what is held by the average employee in the field.
General L-1 Visa Information
The L-1 visa category is for nonimmigrant workers to make an intracompany transfer. An L-1 visa allows a non-U.S. company to bring foreign workers to their U.S. branch or to begin a U.S. branch of their company. There are two types of L-1 visas: the L-1A visa, and the L-1B visa.
L-1B Visa Compared the L-1A Visa
Employees who are eligible for L-1 visas may be eligible for one of two categories: the L-1A or L-1B visa. There are many similarities, but also differences between these two types of visas.
L-1A visa: for executives and managers
L-1B visa: professionals with specialized knowledge
Qualifications for an L-1B Versus L-1A Visa
Employees who are eligible for an L-1A visa must be considered either an executive or a manager. The L-1A definition of an executive or manager is very strict. A manager or executive is defined as someone who:
Manages an organization or a subset of an organization.
Controls and supervises the work of other professional or managerial staff members.
Has the authority to hire, fire, and recommend promotions for other employees.
Has the authority to exercise discretion over daily operations and to establish policies.
Employees who are eligible for an L-1B visa should be considered an employee who has specialized knowledge that pertains to the industry in which they work. An L-1B applicant is only eligible if they meet these qualifications:
Must possess unique or special knowledge that pertains to their organization, service, research, product, techniques, management, equipment, or procedures of the organization.
Validity Period of the L-1A and L-1B Visa
The L-1A and L-1B visas are granted to an employee for a period of one year for establishing a new company and three years for a company that has been established for more than one year. L-1A visa holders can stay in the U.S. for a maximum of seven years, and L-1B visa holders can stay for a maximum of five.
Eligibility for Permanent Residency on an L-1A and L-1B Visa
It's possible for L-1A visa holders to apply for permanent residency in the U.S. L-1A visa holders can apply for a green card through the EB1 category. The L-1A visa also allows the employee to avoid the Permanent Labor Certification. This speeds up the permanent residence application process and an applicant will often receive their green card within one year.
L-1B visa holders can apply for permanent residency in the U.S. Unlike with an L-1A visa, an L-1B visa holder must apply for permanent residency with the labor certification. This falls under the EB2 category and can take several years for the employee to receive their green card.
Conversion from L-1A to L-1B Visa
If an L-1B visa holder would like to convert to an L-1A visa, the petition must be filed before the employee completes four-and-a-half years of the five-year stay in the U.S.
Dependents of an L-1 Visa Holder
Spouses and children under 21 of L-1 visa holders can join them in the U.S. The dependents of the L-1 visa holder are granted L-2 visa status.
Approval from the Department of Labor for L-1 Visa Status
Both types of L-1 visa holders are considered specialized workers and therefore don't need special approval to work from the Department of Labor.
L-1 Status for Multinational Companies
Employees with L-1 status benefit multinational companies, allowing them to expand or grow their business in the U.S. The L-1 visas are very popular as they can lead to permanent residency in the U.S.
L-1 Blanket Visa
This L-1 visa option offers large multinational companies the ability to pre-qualify and then transfer a number of employees instead of filing individual L-1 visa applications. This allows a company to move employees more quickly without needing individual approval from the U.S. government.
An organization must meet the following criteria to qualify:
The company or organization does commercial trade or service.
The company has three or more affiliates or branches.
And meet one of the following:
The company has received approval for at least ten L-1 visas.
The company has annual sales of a minimum of $25 million.
The company has at least 1,000 employees.
Increased Denial Rates for L-1 Visas
The National Foundation for American Policy released information on the increase in denial rates for L-1 visa petitions. The denial rate is especially high for Indians.
The report noted that 56 percent of L-1B visa petitions that were filed for Indian nationals were denied. Denial rates for foreign national from other countries:
Canada: 4 percent
Britain: 16 percent
China: 22 percent
The National Foundation for American Policy analyzed that the increased denial rates were due to how they are adjudicated. There haven't been any changes to the L-1B visa rules.
Indian IT companies with U.S. operations and who deploy a large number of foreign national to work in the U.S. are happy about the recent announcement by the National Foundation for American Policy, though not everyone is hopeful that the memorandum will bring change or advantage to L-1B applicants from India.
Comparison of L-1 and H-1B Visa
Highly skilled temporary workers are often needed by U.S. employers. The temporary work visas such as the H-1B, L-1A, and L-1B allow employers to hire foreign workers. There are many similarities between the H-1B and L-1 visas, but there are also some differences.
Both the H-1B and L-1 visas are temporary work visas.
Both types of visa allow the visa holder dual intent. Dual intent means that the foreign worker doesn't have to show ties to his home country. As well, the visa holder doesn't jeopardize their visa status if they apply for a green card. The green card application will also not affect future status extensions or visa stampings.
There are also many differences between the L-1 and H-1B visa categories.
- L-1: The petition for the L-1 visa can only be applied for by the employer. The employee must have worked for the employer for at least one year out of the last three years. The employee or L-1 visa holder must work for that employer the entire time they remain in the U.S.
- H-1B: The H-1B visa holder can be hired by any U.S. employer as long as all other conditions are met.
- L-1: There's no quota or cap amount on L-1 visas. There can be an unlimited number of L-1 visas given out annually.
- H-1B: There's a cap of 65,000 H-1B visas initially given out in the U.S. There are also:
- 6,800 visas reserved for Chile and Singapore for certain programs.
- 20,000 visas reserved for new graduates with their master's degrees
- The cap is reset each year on April 1. Employees must begin work by October 1 or earlier.
- L-1: There are no requirements for a prevailing wage, though extremely low wages could cause problems.
- H-1B: the employee must be paid the prevailing wage at minimum.
- L-1: The employee can be on the U.S. payroll or the foreign company payroll. It's possible for the employee to only receive an allowance in the U.S.
- H-1B: The employee must be on the payroll of a U.S. company.
- L-1: The spouse of an L-1 visa holder is eligible for an L-2 visa. The spouse may also apply to legally work in the U.S.
- H-1B: The spouse of an H-1B visa is eligible for an H-4 visa. The spouse may NOT work legally in the U.S.
Approval from Department of Labor
- L-1: An L-1 visa holder, in theory, cannot be replaced by a U.S. worker. This means that approval from the Department of Labor isn't necessary for an L-1 visa holder.
- H-1B: The Department of Labor must approve the company's Labor Condition Application. This application states that qualified U.S. workers are unavailable for the job.
- L-1: Available.
- H-1B: NOT available.
Minimum Education Requirement
- L-1: No degree is required for an L-1 visa holder. There are also no requirements in what type or level of degree the L-1 visa holder has.
- H-1B: The employee must have a bachelor's degree or the equivalent of one. The job must be in a specialty area that requires such a degree.
- L-1: For the L-1A visa, the maximum stay is seven years. For the L-1B visa, the maximum stay is five years. There are no extensions past those times. If the employee has spent time on an H visa, that time spent in the U.S. counts towards their maximum duration.
- H-1B: The maximum stay is six years. In certain situations, it is possible to extend the H-1B visa past six years. If the employee has spent time on an L visa, that time spent in the U.S. counts towards the maximum duration of six years in the U.S.
- L-1: L-1A visa holders can apply for a green card and do NOT need PERM labor certification. The L-1A visa holder should receive their green card within a year of filing. The L-1B visa holder does need PERM labor certification.
- H-1B: To receive a green card, H-1B visa holders likely need a PERM labor certification.
- What's the difference between an L-1A and an L-1B?
An L-1A visa is for managers or executives while an L-1B is for employees with specialized knowledge.
The maximum stay in the U.S. for an L-1A is seven years while it's five years for an L-1B.
- Are there are any academic requirements for an L-1A visa?
There are no academic or salary requirements to be approved for an L-1A visa.
The major requirement is that the employee who receives an L-1A visa must have worked for the company for at least one year in an executive or managerial role.
- If establishing a new office, is it beneficial for a company to apply for L-1A visas or L-1B visas?
The USCIS is more likely to award L-1B visas to newer and smaller companies.
- What documents are necessary when applying for an L-1 visa at a U.S. consulate?
The following documents are usually necessary:
- Form DS-156
- Recent passport-sized photo
- Passport, which must be valid beyond the period of the L-1 visa
- Form I-797 or L-1 approval notice
- Copy of Form I-129 that was filed with USCIS
- Documents that prove a corporate relationship between company and employee
- Any other documents to support the case for an L-1 visa
- Any other documents that are requested by the consulate
- Can the children and spouse of an L-1 visa holder come to the U.S.?
Yes, the children and spouse of an L-1 holder are typically given L-2 visa status allowing them to live in the U.S. for the duration of the L-1 visa.
- Can dependents of an L-1 visa holder attend school in the U.S.?
The L-2 visa status allows those children to go to school. There's no need to apply for an F-1.
Dependents of L-1 visa holders can also get permission to work within the U.S. while on L-2 visas.
- Can someone on an L-1 visa start their own business in the U.S.?
No, it is illegal for someone on an L-1 visa to start their own business or work for another employer.
- Can someone with an L-1 visa get a second, part-time job on an H-1B visa?
No, a person with an L-1 visa cannot get a part-time job with an H-1B visa.
- Is there a waiting period for L-1 visa holders before beginning the permanent residency process?
There isn't a waiting period for L-1 visa holders. L-1 visa holders may begin the green card process immediately. Both L-1 visas have dual intent. This means that an L-1 visa holder doesn't give up their L-1 status while applying for permanent residency.
- Is vacation time, sick leave, or maternity leave affected by L-1 visa status?
An employee's vacation time, sick leave, and maternity leave are unaffected by the L-1 visa status.
- Can an employee file the application for L-1 status prior to completing their first year at a company so that when it is approved, they'll have completed the year?
No, the eligibility requirements must be met before the application is filed.
- If the company that sponsors the L-1 visa closes, whether that's the U.S. or foreign entity, does the employee lose their L-1 status?
Yes. The corporate agreement must be in effect at all times for the L-1 visa to be valid.
How applicants are considered eligible for L-1A and L-1B visas can be tricky to define. If help is needed when applying, post your legal need for the professionals at UpCounsel. Their attorneys, on average, have 14 years of experience in immigration law and are happy to answer any questions you may have.