The L-1 intracompany transfer visa allows employers to transfer executives, managers, and specialized knowledge employees from the company’s foreign offices to one of its offices in the U.S.
The employee being transferred to the U.S. must have worked abroad for the company for at least one year in the prior three years.
The transferred employee may also be coming to the U.S. to establish an office if the company doesn’t have it.
Employer is called “Petitioner”, and the foreign employee is called “Beneficiary”.
L-1 Visa Requirements
Both the employer and the employee must meet certain requirements to successfully apply for an L-1 visa.
L-1 Basic Visa Requirements:
All L-1 visa requirements will be discussed in detail below.
To meet L-1 visa requirements, there must be a qualifying relationship between a foreign company and an employer that is currently or will be doing business in the U.S.
The U.S. and foreign company need not be in the same field.
That relationship can be:
- Parent/subsidiary relationship (the U.S. entity can either be the parent or subsidiary),
- Branch office relationship, or
- Affiliate relationship.
The qualifying relationship need not have existed during the one-year period when the L-1 nonimmigrant worked abroad for the company.
For an entity to have a qualifying parent/subsidiary relationship, one of the entities must own at least 50% of the other entity, have a 50% stake in a joint venture as long as the entity has veto control over decision making in the venture, or have de facto control over the other entity even if it owns less than half.
To show control, USCIS requires employers to show “the right and authority to direct the management and operations of the business entity.”
Normally, demonstrating control of the majority of shares will create the control necessary to meet the L-1 qualifying relationship.
However, USCIS could look at additional factors, such as:
- Voting rights agreement, or
- Franchise agreement.
For joint ventures, there is a 50-50 shareholder relationship, so the control is demonstrated by the “negative control.”
As for instances where control is to be demonstrated by “de facto” control, the employer must show that there are a number of shareholders but that the petitioner has a large enough share to be able to force decisions.
If the U.S. entity is the branch, documentation showing that the U.S. entity is registered as a foreign corporation operating in the U.S. will be required.
If the foreign office is the branch of a U.S. company, the similar evidence regarding the foreign office must be submitted with the L-1 petition.
For two entities to be considered affiliates, both entities must be controlled by the same parent company as subsidiaries or be under control of the same individual.
If two entities are controlled by a group of individuals, they can be considered affiliates as long as each individual owner controls about the same amount of stock of each company.
L-1 Visa Employee Requirements
An L-1 applicant must have been employed abroad continuously for one year, within the three years preceding the time of filing an L-1 petition.
As long as the employment abroad took place in the three years preceding filing an L-1 application, the applicant will be eligible for the visa.
Brief business trips to the U.S. do not break the one-year continuous employment requirement, though days spent in the U.S. aren’t counted toward the one-year requirement.
The 365 days of qualifying employment abroad must have been in full-time status only, and part-time employment may not be aggregated.
However, there is an exception to the full-time work:
- If employee’s work is divided among affiliate companies, each using the employee on a part-time basis, which can then constitute full-time employment if the aggregate time meets or exceeds the hours of a full-time job.
The job abroad also can be different from the job to be performed in the U.S.
The exception is in a new office application where an employee who is coming to work as a manager or executive in the U.S. must have worked in the same category abroad.
If the position differs from the one performed abroad, the employer should demonstrate how the work performed abroad will apply to the work to be done in the U.S.
Executive, Managerial, or Specialized Knowledge Capacity
Executives and Managers
The foreign applicant must be coming to the U.S. in a capacity that is:
- Executive, or
- Specialized knowledge.
Managers and executives apply for the L-1A visa.
Specialized knowledge employees apply for the L-1B visa.
L-1A visa holders can remain in L-1A status for up to seven years.
L-1B visa holders can stay in the U.S. in L-1B status for up to five years.
Time spent abroad during the L-1 period may be recaptured if documentation of the time abroad is provided.
The “managerial capacity” is an assignment within an organization in which the employee primarily:
- Manages the organization, or a department, subdivision, function, or component of the organization;
- Supervises and controls the work of other supervisory, professional, or managerial employees, or manages an essential function within the organization, or a department or subdivision of the organization;
- Has the authority to hire and fire or recommend those as well as other personnel actions (such as promotion and leave authorization) if another employee or other employees are directly supervised; if no other employee is directly supervised, functions at a senior level within the organizational hierarchy or with respect to the function managed; and
- Exercises discretion over the day-to-day operations of the activity or function for which the employee has authority. A first-line supervisor is not considered to be acting in a managerial capacity merely by virtue of the supervisor’s supervisory duties unless the employees supervised are professional.
The definition of manager includes the “functional managers.”
It applies to executives or managers who direct a function within the organization.
That may include supervising non-employees like contractors or supervising employees of the company abroad.
USCIS officers scrutinize the “function manager” applications, so employers will need to thoroughly prepare the supporting evidence.
The “executive capacity” is an assignment within an organization in which the employee primarily:
- Directs the management of the organization or a major component or function of the organization;
- Establishes the goals and policies of the organization, component, or function;
- Exercises wide latitude in discretionary decision-making; and
- Receives only general supervision or direction from higher level executives, the board of directors, or stockholders of the organization.
Specialized Knowledge Capacity
An L-1B petitioner can demonstrate that a beneficiary employee has “specialized knowledge” if they have:
1) a “special” knowledge of the company product and its application in international markets; or
2) an “advanced” level of knowledge of the processes and procedures of the company.
According to USCIS manual:
- Special knowledge, which is knowledge of the petitioning employer’s product, service, research, equipment, techniques, management, or other interests and its applications in international markets that is demonstrably distinct or uncommon in comparison to that generally found in the particular industry or within the petitioning employer; or
- Advanced knowledge, which is knowledge or expertise in the organization’s specific processes and procedures that is not commonly found in the relevant industry and is greatly developed or further along in progress, complexity and understanding than that generally found within the petitioning employer.
An L-1B applicant can meet the specialized knowledge requirement if they can demonstrate either possession of:
- Special knowledge, or
- Advanced knowledge.
USCIS officers will consider the following factors when determining the specialized knowledge:
- The beneficiary is qualified to contribute to the U.S. operation’s knowledge of the foreign operation’s conditions as a result of having knowledge not usually found in the industry or the organization’s U.S. operations.
- The beneficiary has knowledge that is particularly beneficial to the employer’s competitiveness in the marketplace.
- The beneficiary has been employed abroad in a capacity involving assignments that have significantly enhanced the employer’s productivity, competitiveness, image, or financial position.
- The beneficiary’s claimed specialized knowledge normally can be gained only through prior experience with that employer.
- The beneficiary possesses knowledge of a product or process that cannot be easily taught to another individual without significant economic cost or inconvenience.
- The beneficiary has knowledge of a process or product that either is sophisticated or complex, or of a highly technical nature, although not necessarily unique to the firm.
If there are other workers in the U.S. operation with the same specialized knowledge, the following factors will be considered by a USCIS officer:
- How the duties to be performed by the beneficiary that require his or her specialized knowledge may or may not differ from those already employed in the U.S. operations;
- The extent to which the petitioner would suffer economic inconvenience or disruption to its U.S. or foreign-based operations if it were unable to transfer the beneficiary;
- Whether the salary to be paid to the beneficiary is comparable to similarly situated peers in the U.S. operations.
L-1 Visa Checklist of Documents
Type of documents
Examples of acceptable documents
Who provides it
Documents about foreign company
Documents about U.S. company
Information about employee’s position abroad
Information about U.S. position
Proof of “Specialized or Advanced Knowledge” (ONLY if applicable)
Foregn company and applicant (only if applying for L-1B, “Specialized or Advanced Knowledge”)
Can Business Owners Apply for L-1?
An owner or shareholder of a business may qualify as an L-1 if the following evidence is submitted:
- That the beneficiary’s services are to be used for a temporary period, and
- That the beneficiary will be transferred to an assignment abroad upon the completion of the temporary services in the U.S.
You must also establish that the foreign qualifying company will be doing business the entire time the owner or shareholder is in the U.S. as an L-1.
New Offices and Small Businesses
The following L-1 applicants will be subject to additional requirements:
- Offices in the U.S. doing business for less than one year;
- Small businesses.
USCIS will apply greater scrutiny to such applications.
New U.S. Offices
To increase chances of L-1 approval, the U.S. office should have been running for a year before submitting the application.
However, if the U.S. office needs the executive, manager, or specialized knowledge employee sooner than that, then you will need to be prepared to address several issues.
An initial L-1 visa for a new U.S. office will be approved for one year only vs. up to three years for other L-1 visas.
Also, only those employees who have worked as executives or managers abroad may apply for L-1A visas for opening new U.S. offices.
First, you will need to demonstrate to USCIS that the U.S. office has been “doing business” for a year.
If a business was merely incorporated without any business transactions, that won’t meet the “doing business” requirement.
USCIS defines “doing business” as:
- 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 U.S. and abroad.
A business that has been inactive for an extended period of time and has resumed operations will be treated as a new business.
If foreign company has acquired a U.S. business that’s been operating for more than a year, then the L-1 petition should not be treated as a “new office” and a “new employee.”
In such a scenario, new office L-1 applicants are not required to demonstrate that the new office is currently doing business.
However, for executive and managerial transfers the following evidence must be provided:
- Sufficient physical premises to house the new office have been secured;
- The beneficiary has been employed for one continuous year in the three-year period preceding the filing of the petition in an executive or managerial capacity and that the proposed employment involved executive or managerial authority over the new operation; and
- The intended U.S. operation, within one year of the approval of the petition, will support an executive or managerial position supported by information regarding:
- The proposed nature of the office describing the scope of the entity, its organizational structure, and its financial goals;
- The size of the U.S. investment and the financial ability of the foreign entity to pay the beneficiary and to start doing business in the United States; and
- The organizational structure of the foreign entity.
For specialized knowledge employee transfers, the employer must show that:
- Sufficient physical premises to house the new office have been secured;
- The business entity in the U.S. is or will be a qualifying organization (i.e., sufficiently related to the foreign entity); and
- The petitioner has the financial ability to pay the beneficiary and to begin doing business in the U.S.
Examples of acceptable documents that can be submitted to meet the above requirements for both manager/executive new office transfers and specialized knowledge employee new office transfers can include:
- Purchase or leasing documents related to the premises (note that home offices are likely to be frowned upon in new office petitions);
- A detailed business plan showing the proposed nature and scope of the business, its organizational structure and its financing goals including strategies, targets, and growth projections;
- Financial records such as tax returns, audited financial statements and bank records showing the amount of the United States investment, source of funds, and the ability of the foreign entity to pay the U.S. entity’s bills;
- An organizational chart of the foreign entity;
- Contracts, invoices, letters of credit and letters of intent documenting the business will be providing goods and services in the near future;
- Evidence the business has begun hiring, such as payroll records;
- Letters of support from local chambers of commerce or bilateral investment organizations.
The business plan and general projections regarding the business should be realistic and achievable.
At the time of the L-1 visa extension, the petitioner is expected to demonstrate that the plan was followed and explain why the performance of the company did not match expectations.
How to Extend L-1 Visa Issued for New Offices
To apply for the L-1 new office extension after a year you will need to submit the following documents:
- Evidence that the U.S. and foreign entities are still qualifying, related organizations;
- Evidence that the U.S. entity has been doing business for the previous year by providing goods and/or services on a regular basis;
- A statement of the duties performed by the beneficiary for the previous year and the duties the beneficiary will perform under the extended petition;
- A statement describing the staffing of the new operation, including the number of employees and types of positions held accompanied by evidence of wages paid to employees when the beneficiary will be employed in a managerial or executive capacity; and
- Evidence of the financial status of the U.S. operation.
Blanket L Petitions
A blanket L-1 visa is available to certain large companies filing L-1 intracompany transfer petitions.
A blanket approval for a company (including parent, subsidiary, affiliates, and branches) is available to an organization that is:
- Engaged in commercial trade or services;
- Has an office in the U.S. doing business for one year or more;
- Has three or more domestic and foreign branches, subsidiaries, or affiliates;
- The petitioner and the other qualifying organizations have obtained approval of petitions for at least 10 L-1 managers, executives, or specialized knowledge professionals;
- Has U.S. subsidiaries or affiliates with combined annual sales of at least $25 million; or
- Has a U.S. workforce of at least 1000 employees.
The blanket L-1 visa is available only to relatively large, established companies having multi-layered structures and numerous related business entities.
Such companies usually have an established program for rotating personnel and, in general, are the type of companies for which the L nonimmigrant classification was created.
The blanket petitions eligibility requirements are formulated to exclude small and nonprofit organizations.
The advantage of a blanket petition is that a company can skip filing individual petitions with USCIS, and foreign nationals only need to file an L-1 visa application with a U.S. Embassy or Consulate.
Blanket L petition may be approved for three years and extended in three-year increments.
The application must include evidence that the petitioner meets all the requirements above and that the entities for which approval is sought are qualifying organizations.
U.S. embassies collect a Fraud Prevention and Detection fee of $500 from applicants for L visas covered under a blanket petition.
Blanket L employers may also be subject to a fee of $4500 if they employ 50 or more individuals and more than 50% of those are in L-1 or H-1B status.
If a small or medium-sized business has a position where the duties are primarily executive or managerial, the position may qualify for an L-1 visa.
The following type of evidence should be submitted by small businesses:
- Statement of an authorized official regarding ownership and control of each qualifying organization;
- Other evidence of ownership and control (such as records of stock ownership, profit and loss statements or other accountant’s reports, tax returns, or articles of incorporation, by-laws, and minutes of board meetings).
Spouses and Children Under 21 of L-1 Visa Holders
Spouses and children under the age of 21 can accompany an L-1 visa holder by applying for the L-2 visa.
The period of stay for the L-2 will be the same as the L-1.
L-2 spouses may apply for employment authorization using Form I-765.