L-1B Visa for Specialized Knowledge Employees

L-1B Visa for Specialized Knowledge Employees

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Last updated: April 8, 2024.

What is an L-1B visa?

The L-1B visa is a nonimmigrant visa category for foreign workers who are being transferred to the United States to work in a specialized knowledge capacity for a U.S.-based employer. 

This visa is specifically designed for employees of multinational companies and is part of the L-1 visa category, which also includes the L-1A visa for managers and executives.

Here are some key characteristics of the L-1B visa:

  • Specialized Knowledge: To qualify for an L-1B visa, the employee must possess specialized knowledge that is essential to the company’s operations. This specialized knowledge may pertain to the company’s products, services, processes, or procedures.
  • Employer Requirements: The sponsoring employer must have a qualifying relationship with the foreign company (such as a parent, subsidiary, branch, or affiliate) and must be doing business in the United States and at least one other country.
  • Work Requirements: The employee must have been working for the foreign company for at least one continuous year within the three years preceding the L-1B visa application and must be coming to the U.S. to work for the U.S. entity in a specialized knowledge capacity.
  • Duration of Stay: L-1B visas are typically issued for an initial period of up to three years, with the possibility of extension, for a maximum of five years. Special rules may apply for employees working on projects.
  • Dual Intent: L-1B visa holders are allowed to have “dual intent,” which means they can pursue lawful permanent residency (a green card) while in the United States on an L-1B visa.
  • Family Members: Spouses and unmarried children under the age of 21 of L-1B visa holders can accompany them to the U.S. on L-2 visas. L-2 visa holders can also apply for work authorization in the U.S.
  • Change of Status: L-1B visa holders can apply for a change of status to other nonimmigrant categories or, in some cases, for permanent residency.

The U.S. company sponsoring the foreign employee for a L-1B visa is called “Petitioner” and the foreign employee being transferred to the U.S. office is called “Beneficiary”.

Who is eligible for an L-1B visa?

Eligibility for an L-1B visa is based on specific criteria that both the employee and the sponsoring employer must meet. To qualify for an L-1B visa, the following requirements must be met:

Employee requirements include:

  • “Specialized knowledge”
  • Employment History
  • Work for a Qualifying Entity

“Specialized knowledge”: L-1B visa can be issued to a beneficiary if it can be shown that the foreign employee possesses at least one of the following:

  • Specialized Knowledge, which is knowledge of the petitioner’s product, service, research, equipment, techniques, management or other interests and its application in international markets that is distinct or uncommon in comparison to that generally found in the particular industry or within the petitioning organization.
  • Advanced Knowledge, which is knowledge or expertise in the organization’s specific processes and procedures that is not commonly found in the industry and is greatly developed or further along in progress, complexity, and understanding than that found within the petitioning organization.

The following factors may be considered by USCIS when determining the L-1B visa eligibility:

  • Whether the beneficiary possesses knowledge of foreign operating conditions that is of significant value to the petitioner’s U.S. operations
  • Whether the beneficiary has been employed abroad in a capacity involving assignments that have significantly enhanced the employer’s productivity, competitiveness, image, or financial position
  • Whether the beneficiary possesses knowledge of a product or process that cannot be easily transferred or taught to another individual without significant economic cost or inconvenience
  • Whether specialized knowledge cannot be easily imparted to other individuals

The beneficiary should provide supporting documents demonstrating the beneficiary’s training, education, and experience gained outside the U.S.

Employment History: The employee must have been working for the foreign employer (a qualifying entity) for at least one continuous year within the three years immediately preceding the filing of the L-1B visa petition. This employment should be in a specialized knowledge capacity.

Work for a Qualifying Entity: The employee must be transferring to work for a U.S. entity that has a qualifying relationship with the foreign employer. This relationship can be in the form of a parent company, subsidiary, branch, or affiliate. The U.S. employer and the foreign employer must be doing business simultaneously.

Employer requirements include: 

  • Doing Business
  • Size of Company
  • Employee Retention

Doing Business: The U.S. employer must be actively doing business and have a qualifying relationship with the foreign employer. The U.S. entity and the foreign entity must both be engaged in legitimate business activities.

Size of Company: There are no specific size or financial requirements for the company, but it must be a legitimate, operating entity.

Employee Retention: The employer must demonstrate its ability to employ the L-1B visa holder and maintain their specialized knowledge during their stay in the United States.

L-1B visa duration

The L-1B visa is typically granted for an initial period of up to three years. Here are some key points regarding the duration of the L-1B visa:

  • Initial Period: The initial L-1B visa can be issued for a period of up to three years. This is the standard duration for most L-1B visa approvals.
  • Extensions: L-1B visa holders may be eligible for extensions, which can be granted in increments of up to two years, for a maximum total stay of five years. Extensions are typically available if the specialized knowledge employee continues to work in a specialized capacity for the U.S. employer, and the employer and foreign entity continue to meet the qualifying relationship and business criteria.
  • L-1B Visa for New Office: If the U.S. entity is a new office, the L-1B visa may be initially approved for only one year. However, the employer can then request extensions in two-year increments as long as the business grows and meets the requirements.
  • Project-Specific Employment: In cases where L-1B visa holders are working on a specific project or contract, the duration of the visa may be limited to the duration of the project, up to three years initially. Extensions may be granted if the project continues.
  • Dual Intent: L-1B visa holders can have “dual intent,” which means they can pursue lawful permanent residency (a green card) while in the United States on an L-1B visa. If they are in the process of obtaining a green card, their L-1B visa status can be extended beyond the standard maximum of five years.

How to apply for an L-1B visa?

Applying for an L-1B visa is a multi-step process that involves both the employer (petitioner) and the employee (beneficiary). Here’s a general overview of the steps involved in applying for an L-1B visa:

Step 1. Determine L-1B Eligibility:

  • Ensure that the employee (beneficiary) meets the “specialized knowledge” and employment history requirements.
  • Confirm that the employer (petitioner) is a qualifying multinational company with a qualifying relationship to the foreign entity and is actively doing business in the U.S. and another country.

Step 2. Submit a Petition with USCIS:

  • The L-1B visa application process typically begins with the employer, who can choose to file an individual petition for the employee (Form I-129) or use the Blanket L-1 program if they qualify.
  • Complete Form I-129 (Petition for Nonimmigrant Worker): The employer must complete Form I-129, including the L Classification Supplement (Form I-129S). Provide detailed information about the company, the employee, and the position.
  • Gather Supporting Documents: Collect all required supporting documents, including evidence of the employee’s specialized knowledge and the qualifying relationship between the U.S. employer and the foreign entity.
  • Include the employee’s employment history, educational qualifications, and any other relevant documentation.
  • Submit the Petition: The employer must submit the completed Form I-129 and supporting documents to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). The filing location depends on the employer’s location and whether they are using the Blanket L-1 program.
  • Pay Filing Fees: Pay the appropriate filing fees as required by USCIS. These fees may vary, and you should check the USCIS website for the most up-to-date fee information.

Step 3. Wait for USCIS Processing:

  • USCIS will review the L-1B visa petition. Processing times can vary, so it’s important to plan well in advance of the intended travel date. See the processing times below.

Step 4.A. Attend a Visa Interview (only if beneficiary is outside the U.S.):

  • If the L-1B petition is approved, the employee should schedule an appointment at the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate for a visa interview.
  • Pay the visa application fee, complete the DS-160 online visa application, and provide all required documents
  • Attend the Visa Interview: If family members (spouse and unmarried children under 21) plan to accompany the employee, they should also attend the visa interview.

Step 4.B. Apply for Change of Status (only if beneficiary is in the U.S.):

  • If the beneficiary is physically present in the U.S. in other lawful nonimmigrant status, you will need to file Form I-539 (Application to Extend/Change Nonimmigrant Status) with USCIS to change your status.

Step 5. Travel to the U.S. (if outside the U.S.):

  • If the visa is approved, the employee can travel to the United States. Dependents can also accompany them on L-2 visas.
  • L-1B Visa Stamp and I-94 Arrival Record:
  • Upon entry into the U.S., the employee will receive an I-94 Arrival/Departure Record, which specifies the authorized period of stay. Ensure that the visa stamp and I-94 record match the employment terms.

Step 6. Visa Extensions (if needed):

  • If the employee and employer wish to extend the L-1B status beyond the initial period, they can file for extensions before the visa expires.

L-1B visa fees

The typical fees associated with an L-1B visa application include: 

  • Form I-129 Filing Fee: The primary fee associated with the L-1 visa application is for Form I-129, Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker, filed by the U.S. employer:
    • $1,385 plus additional fees
    • $695 plus additional fees, if applicable
  • Asylum Program Fee:
    • $600 (general category)
    • $0 (nonprofit employers)
    • $300 (small employers)
  • Fraud Prevention and Detection Fee: An additional fee is required for initial L-1 applications or requests to change the employer, to support fraud prevention and detection efforts. This fee is $500.
  • L-1 petitioners that employ 50 or more employees in the U.S. if more than 50 percent of these employees are in H-1B, L-1A or L-1B nonimmigrant status. This fee is $4,500. For exceptions, visit USCIS website.
  • Premium Processing Fee (Optional): If the U.S. employer wishes to expedite the processing of the L-1 visa petition, they can opt for premium processing by paying an additional fee. This fee is $2,805. Premium processing aims to provide a decision on the petition within 15 calendar days.
  • Each fees should be submitted in a separate check or money order

Please note that immigration fees can change, and it’s essential to check the official U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) website for the most current fee information:

Form I-129 filing fee

Additional L-1B visa fees

Premium processing fee

L-1B visa checklist of required documents

When applying for an L-1B visa, it’s important to provide a comprehensive set of documents to support your case. Below is a checklist of required documents for the L-1B visa application:

Form I-129, Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker
  • This is the primary form filed by the U.S. employer on behalf of the L-1B visa applicant
  • Include the L Classification Supplement (Form I-129S)
  • The form must be signed and dated
  • You can find the most recent edition of Form I-129 on the official USCIS website
  • Outdated editions of Form I-129 will be rejected by USCIS
Filing fees
  • Include the appropriate fees for Form I-129
Cover letter
  • Letter of support from the U.S. employer, detailing the job offer, the employee’s specialized knowledge, and the need for the employee in the U.S.
Foreign company documentation
  • Incorporation Documents/Partnership or Joint Venture Agreement:
    • Articles/Memoranda of Incorporation;
    • Bylaws;
    • Stock certificates/ledger;
    • Name change/registration;
  • Applicable business permits/licenses/registration;
  • Company annual report/marketing brochure/resume;
  • Lease/deed; mortgage or rent receipts;
  • Detailed organizational chart;
  • Articles, promotional materials about the company, its products, services, or key people;
  • Recent company tax return or financial statement;
  • Copies of awards, memberships or special achievements by the company or key personnel;
  • Photographs of the inside and outside of the facilities.
U.S. company documentation
  • Incorporation Documents/Partnership/Joint Venture Agreement;
  • Branch qualification to do business in United States or state;
  • Applicable business permits/licenses/registration;
  • Company annual report/marketing brochure/resume;
  • Latest financial statement or federal tax return (if applicable);
  • Latest Form ED941 (Employee Wages) (if applicable);
  • Information on any changes affecting corporate structure (if applicable);
  • Lease/deed; mortgage or rent receipts;
  • Detailed organizational chart;
  • Articles, promotional materials about the company, its products, services, or key people;
  • Copies of awards, memberships or special achievements by the company or key personnel;
  • Photographs of the inside and outside of the facilities.
Beneficiary’s position abroad 
  • Pay stubs or other corporate documentation showing employee’s employment by the foreign company for at least one year during the previous three years.
  • Evidence demonstrating that beneficiary’s knowledge is not commonly held throughout the particular industry or within the petitioning organization.
  • To meet the “specialized knowledge” requirement, the petitioner must provide a detailed description of the following:
    • Nature of the industry or field
    • Nature of petitioner’s products and/or services
    • Specialized knowledge required to perform the duties 
    • Need for the beneficiary’s specialized knowledge
Beneficiary’s proposed U.S. position
  • Highly Detailed Job Description of the U.S. position being offered to the employee, including job title and description of duties and tasks performed in the position. Should detail how the specialized knowledge cannot be easily imparted to other individuals. Mention how their specialized knowledge is essential for the employer;
  • Assignment or transfer letter/contract showing proposed terms of assignment and salary.
  • Any other supporting documentation that demonstrates the need for the specialized knowledge employee in the U.S.
Evidence of Beneficiary’s Qualifications
  • Employment history: Documentation to show that the L-1B visa applicant has worked for the foreign company in an executive or managerial capacity for at least one year out of the past three years.
  • Resume or curriculum vitae: A detailed resume or CV of the beneficiary, highlighting their experience and qualifications. Resume or CV should provide details and supporting evidence regarding the beneficiary’s training, education, and experience gained outside the U.S.
  • Educational Qualifications: Copies of degrees, diplomas, and certificates relevant to the specialized knowledge.
  • Any letters of support or endorsement from the U.S. and foreign companies, or third parties that can attest to the nature of the business relationship and the qualifications of the L-1B visa applicant.
For new U.S. offices only
  • Business plan: a detailed business plan outlining the company’s goals, market analysis, and financial projections.
English translation
  • If any document is in a language other than English, submit both a copy of the original-language document and the English certified translation.
Consular Processing (only if beneficiary is abroad)
  • DS-160 visa application form
  • U.S. passport-sized photo
  • Passport: A valid passport with a minimum of six months of validity beyond the intended period of stay in the U.S.
  • Visa Appointment Letter: The appointment confirmation page for the visa interview.
  • Form I-797: A copy of the Form I-129 approval notice received from USCIS.
  • Visa application fees.

For Dependent Family Members (if applicable):

If the beneficiary’s spouse and/or children (unmarried under 21) plan to accompany them to the U.S. on L-2 visas, they should also provide the following:

  • Copies of their valid passports.
  • Visa application forms (DS-160) for each family member.
  • Visa application fees for each family member.
  • Marriage certificate (if spouse) and birth certificates (if children).
  • Copies of the Form I-797 approval notice of the L-1B employee (if family members are applying separately).

L-1B visa processing time

The processing time for an L-1B visa can vary depending on several factors, including the workload of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), the specific service center processing your petition, and whether you choose to expedite the process through premium processing. Here are some general guidelines for L-1B visa processing times:

  • Regular Processing: Without premium processing, the processing times for an L-1B visa petition typically varied. It could take anywhere from 5 weeks to 1.5 months from the time the U.S. employer files Form I-129 until a decision is made. USCIS processing times can vary depending on the service center and the volume of applications they are handling. You can check the most current processing times on the USCIS website.
  • Premium Processing: If you choose to use premium processing, USCIS guarantees a response within 15 calendar days from the date they receive the Form I-907 and associated fee. This expedited option can significantly reduce the waiting time for a decision. It’s essential to note that premium processing is only available for Form I-129, not for consular processing of the visa.
  • Consular Processing (if applicable): If you are applying for the L-1B visa at a U.S. embassy or consulate outside the United States, the processing time will depend on the specific embassy or consulate’s workload and procedures. Consular processing can add additional time to the overall processing timeline. The timing can vary by location and the time of year. In general, it can take anywhere from 1 month to 3-4 months to receive an interview appointment at a US Embassy or Consulate. If the L-1B visa is approved, the passports with stamped visas are generally returned in 1 week.

Is an L-1B visa a dual intent visa?

Yes, the L-1B visa is considered a dual intent visa. This means that individuals holding L-1B visa status are allowed to have both a temporary intent to work in the United States and a long-term or immigrant intent to become a lawful permanent resident (obtain a green card) if they are eligible and choose to pursue this path.

While many nonimmigrant visa categories strictly require that the visa holder maintains nonimmigrant intent (i.e., the intent to return to their home country at the end of their authorized stay), L-1B visa holders are not subject to this restriction. They can apply for and pursue lawful permanent residency in the United States, which is commonly referred to as having “dual intent.”

This flexibility is beneficial for L-1B visa holders who may wish to eventually become permanent residents of the United States while initially coming to work in a specialized knowledge capacity. They can apply for a green card, and their L-1B visa status will not be negatively affected by such an application.

Related Links:

L-1A Visa For Managers and Executives

L-1 Visa (Requirements, Checklist, How to Apply)

Form I-129, Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker

L-2 visa