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The L-1 Visa – Transferring an Employee from a Foreign Office to the United States

Visa application form

Businesses are becoming more globalized every year as countries seek markets overseas.  Many United States businesses have offices abroad, and many foreign businesses have offices in the United States.  United States immigration law allows global businesses to transfer employees from a foreign office to a United States office when such a decision is necessary to the interests of the business.  To transfer an employee, the United States employer must file a petition for the foreign worker requesting either an L-1A or L-1B visa.  After the petition is approved, the foreign worker may apply for the visa and relocate to the U.S. to work with the petitioning company.

A potential L-1 visa employer must have a qualifying relationship with a foreign company (whether that company is a parent company, a branch, a subsidiary, or an affiliate), and must be doing business as an employer in the United States and in at least one other country. The latter can be done directly or through a qualifying organization so long as it is for the duration of the L-1 visa holder’s stay in the United States.  The business in question need not be one that participates in international trade.

L-1A visas are for company executive transferees coming to work in the United States. The L-1A visa applicants must be employed abroad with the foreign company in an executive or managerial capacity for at least one year out of the past three years prior to the application or last admission to the United States. The L-1A visa lets a company which does not have an office in the U.S. send an executive or manager to the U.S. to help establish one. The L-1A visa is granted initially for one year to U.S. employers with a new company and three years for a company established for more than one year.  Visa extensions are available upon application in two-year increments, but the total stay in this status cannot exceed seven years.

The L-1B visa allows a company to transfer an employee with “specialized knowledge” to come work in the United States.  Just as with the L-1A, the employee must work for the foreign organization abroad for at least one continuous year within the three years preceding entry into the United States.  They must be entering the United States to provide services in a specialized knowledge capacity to a branch of the same employer or one of its qualifying organizations.  Regulations state that “specialized knowledge” is considered as (1) specialized knowledge possessed by an employee of the organization’s product, service, research, equipment, techniques, management, or other interests and its application in international markets; or (2) an advanced level of knowledge or expertise in the organization’s processes and procedures.  Proving this can often be tricky and confusing for many employers, and it is a common reason for application to be denied if it is not carefully and meticulously explained through documented evidence.  Visa extensions for L-1B are also permitted but may not be renewed past five years.

There are numerous visas that apply to very specific criteria when entry into the United States is necessary for a business to further its goals. You should consult with a qualified immigration attorney to fully understand the L-1 visa process and determine whether this visa is right for you and your business.

BUSINESS OWNERS AND HR MANAGERS: FIND OUT WHERE YOU STAND!  Your company’s foreign employees may already qualify for a benefit that you are not aware of yet.  If you have never talked to an immigration attorney about your situation before, now is the best time to do so – before the new administration starts making changes that may affect your employees and your business.  Contact an experienced, licensed attorney to find out what YOU can do to help your situation.  If you would like our assistance, contact our office today at 210-932-3600 to set up a consultation.

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