Overview of the Application Process for an L-1 Work Visa

An overview of what you'll need to show, evidence to support your case, and basic steps involved in getting an L-1 visa.

For people applying for an L-1 visa, the documents and evidence they will need to gather can seem daunting. But if you take a moment to review the L-1 visa program’s specific requirements, you’ll see that identifying and gathering the documents and evidence for an L-1 is not impossible.

You may first want to read up on eligibility for an L-1 visa  before continuing here.

Gather Evidence of a “Qualifying Relationship” Between the U.S. and Abroad Companies

The first thing you and your U.S. employer will need to show is that the U.S. side of the company has a “qualifying relationship” with your employer’s business, company, or organization outside the United States. This means that you and your employer will have to prove that the U.S. part of the company is the parent, subsidiary, branch, affiliate, or joint venture partner of the part of the company or organization outside the United States. The law says that a qualifying relationship exists between a U.S. entity and a foreign entity when there is a high degree of “common ownership and control” between the two.

In recent years, U.S. immigration officials have been much stricter in scrutinizing the evidence of a qualifying relationship. The general rule here is, “more evidence is better.” However, you should also make sure that your qualifying relationship evidence makes sense and is consistent!

Types of evidence you and your employer can provide include documents of incorporation or corporate management drafted under the laws of the U.S. or under the country where the non-U.S. entity does business. Likely examples include:

  • Articles of Incorporation
  • organizational charts showing the structure and relationship between the U.S. and abroad entities
  • personnel charts showing board officers, executives, and their hierarchical structure
  • stock issuance and stock certificate records
  • corporate/board meeting minutes
  • brochures, Web pages, newspaper or magazine articles, or any other publications, whether authored by your employer or by third parties, indicating the relationship
  • annual reports or financial statements, and
  • tax returns.

Note that this list is not exhaustive; not by a long shot. The incredible diversity and vast number of different businesses, companies, organizations, and other entities, and the ways they are formed and structured, means that there is no magic combination of evidence. If you or your employer have questions about your own case, you should contact an immigration attorney who can help analyze the situation.

Gather Evidence of Your One Year of Employment Abroad

The second element you will need to establish for an L-1 visa is that you were employed with the portion of the company or organization outside the U.S. for at least one year within the last three years.

As with the qualifying relationship requirement, proving your employment abroad may not be as simple as you'd think. For example, the laws regarding corporations in your home country might not require your employer to keep records about your employment, or may allow your employer to pay your salary “off the books.” Proving past employment without such records could be difficult.

Again, the general rule here is “more evidence is better,” so long as all of your evidence makes sense and is consistent. In addition, you want to make sure that you account for any gaps in time.

Possible examples of proof of employment include:

  • resume or curriculum vitae
  • pay statements
  • income tax records
  • letters of reference or recommendation from colleagues and coworkers
  • newspaper or magazine articles, Web pages, brochures, and other publications documenting your employment, and
  • any work product you have produced for that employer.

Again, this is not an exhaustive list. Speak with an immigration attorney if you have questions on your case.

Gather Evidence of Specialized Knowledge or Work in a Managerial or Executive Capacity

This last bit of evidence may be the most difficult to establish. The L-1 visa program has two subtypes: the L-1A visa is for persons who have worked abroad as an executive or high-ranking manager of the employer’s organization outside the U.S., while the L-1B visa is for persons who have worked in what is called a “specialized knowledge” capacity abroad. To qualify for the L-1 visa, you must show that your work abroad falls into at least in one of these two categories. Let’s look at each.

Managerial or Executive Capacity

You might think that showing that you were a high-level manager or executive abroad will be easy. Be careful: There are a few subtle pitfalls on the path to an L-1A visa, and U.S. immigration officials have not made it any easier as time has passed.

To qualify as a managerial or executive worker, your work with the company or organization abroad must have constituted more than the duties of a line manager. At minimum, you must have been in charge of other workers who hold degrees or are professionals in their own right. Alternatively, you can demonstrate that you were in charge of an entire department, division, or critical business process with your employer.

Again, more evidence is better, so long as all of it makes sense and is consistent. Such evidence can include the following:

  • organizational or hierarchical charts showing your place in the organization
  • your resume or curriculum vitae
  • articles of incorporation, executive board meeting minutes, shareholders’ meeting minutes, and other similar corporate governance documents
  • annual reports or audited financial statements
  • letters of reference or recommendation from supervisors, colleagues, and others, and
  • detailed descriptions of your duties in a managerial or executive role.

Even if you are the chief executive officer of your company abroad, your case will not necessarily be a slam dunk. Carefully gather your evidence. As always, the above list is not exhaustive, and there are other forms of evidence that can help you.

Specialized Knowledge Capacity

If you are not a manager or executive, you might be able to prove that you possess “specialized knowledge.” Specialized knowledge is information about your company or organization that is acquired only through employment with the company or organization. This is knowledge that persons outside of your organization cannot acquire through education, training, or publicly available knowledge.

In recent years, U.S. immigration has taken a severely restrictive stance towards what it considers “specialized knowledge.” For example, if you personally developed a proprietary technology or tool used exclusively by your company or organization, and you can document your work, immigration officials would consider this specialized knowledge. But if you gain knowledge about your company’s or organization’s confidential business plans or strategies, even if these plans or strategies would be impossible to learn except through employment with the organization, U.S. immigration may still find that you do  not  have specialized knowledge.

When gathering evidence showing that you have specialized knowledge about your employer, carefully identify bits of information related to your company or organization that is proprietary, confidential, critical to your organization’s success, and/or unavailable to the general public. You will want to be as comprehensive as possible in compiling evidence of your specialized knowledge.

Examples of specialized knowledge evidence might include:

  • patent and trademark registrations by you for your organization
  • detailed descriptions of tools, techniques, or methodologies unique to your organization that you use as part of your daily duties
  • newspaper or magazine articles, publications in scientific, industry, or trade journals, brochures, Web pages, or other publications showing your work with your employer’s proprietary, unique, or in-house tools, technologies, or products
  • detailed descriptions of any proprietary or in-house tools, techniques, or methodologies that you developed for your employer, and
  • corporate or board meeting minutes showing your access to confidential information about your employer’s products, services, business strategies, and the like.

As with the examples above, this is not an exhaustive list. Because proving specialized knowledge can be particularly challenging, you should consider contacting an immigration attorney if you have questions on your specific case.

Next Steps in the Application Process

Once you and your employer have gathered the needed evidence and documents, the next step is for your U.S.-based employer to file a nonimmigrant visa petition on your behalf with  U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, or USCIS. Your employer will file Form I-129 along with all of the applicable evidence discussed above. For a more detailed look at Form I-129 and the petition process, see Timeline For Filing the I-129 Form for an Immigrant Worker.

After USCIS approves your employer's petition, it will issue an Approval Notice confirming its decision. With this notice, you will be able to apply for an L-1 visa stamp at a U.S. embassy or consular post. You will need to schedule a visa interview appointment with a U.S. consular post, most likely in your home country, and present the approval notice along with your supporting evidence from the petition to consular officers.

Assuming the consulate grants your visa application, you may then travel to the U.S. and present the L-1 visa stamp for admission to the United States as an L-1 worker.

Should you have any questions regarding your specific case, contact an immigration attorney who can analyze your situation.

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