Who Qualifies for an L-1 Visa?

Learn about the eligibility rules for an L-1 temporary work visa.

An L-1 visa is a nonimmigrant (temporary) visa for "intracompany transferees." It allows managers, executives, or especially knowledgeable employees who work outside the U.S. for a company that has an affiliated entity inside the U.S. to come to the U.S. and perform services for that entity.

There are no limits on how many people can get L-1 visas each year, making it an appealing type of work visa.

Rights and Restrictions of the L-1 Visa

Here are some of the key features of the L-1 visa:

  • You can work legally in the U.S. for your L-1 sponsor for up to three years on your first visa. You may then apply for extensions of two years at a time, up to a maximum of seven years if you’re a manager or executive, or five years if you’re a person with specialized knowledge. Time spent in H visa status counts toward the five or seven years, unfortunately.
  • You may work only for the U.S. employer who acted as your visa sponsor, and it must be a parent, branch, subsidiary, affiliate, or joint venture partner of the company that currently employs you outside the United States.
  • Visas are available for your accompanying spouse and minor children, and your spouse may apply for employment authorization in the United States.
  • You may travel in and out of the U.S. or remain here continuously until your L-1 status expires.
  • If you have an L-1 visa for an executive or managerial level position in the U.S. company, and you want to apply for a U.S. green card through employment, you can do so.
  • The L-1 visa is “dual intent,” which means that you can get the visa even if you are also seeking U.S. lawful permanent residence (a green card).

Do You Meet the General Qualifications for an L-1 Visa?

You may qualify for an L-1 visa if you have been employed outside the U.S. for at least one continuous year out of the past three years, and your employer transfers you to the U.S. to work as a manager (category L-1A), executive (L-1A), or worker with specialized knowledge (L-1B.)

The U.S. company to which you are transferring must be a parent, branch, subsidiary, affiliate, or joint venture partner of your non-U.S. employer. The non-U.S. company must remain in operation while you have the L-1 visa. “Non-U.S. company” means that it is physically located outside the United States. The company may, for example, be a foreign division of a U.S.-based business, or it may have been started in a country outside the United States. Either one matches the definition of a non-U.S. company.

The company must continue operations for the duration of your permitted stay under your L-1 visa. You will be asked to show that you can expect to be transferred back to your original place of employer after leaving the United States. If your foreign employer closes, the U.S. employer must have a related foreign company to which you could, in theory, be transferred.

You will NOT be asked to show that either your non-U.S. or prospective U.S. employer is operating in any particular business structure. Many legal forms of doing business are acceptable, including, but not limited to, corporations, limited corporations, partnerships, joint ventures, and sole proprietorships. The employer may also be a nonprofit or religious organization.

Although you are generally expected to work full-time in the U.S., you can work somewhat less time if you devote a significant portion of your time to the job on a regular and systematic basis.

Qualifying for a Managerial / Executive L-1 Visa (L-1A)

To qualify for an L-1A visa, you must meet either the definition of a manager or an executive, both of which are narrower than you might think. Here's a brief summary:

  • A manager is someone who manages an entire organization, department, subdivision, function, or component, supervises others, can hire and fire, and is authorized to make day-to-day decisions affecting operations.
  • An executive is someone whose primary role is directing the management of the organization or a major function or component, sets goals and policies, has extensive discretionary authority for decision-making, and receives only general supervision from higher up.

Qualifying for a Specialized Knowledge L-1 Visa (L-1B)

Obtaining an L-1B visa requires proving that you possess specialized knowledge, that is, you understand the company’s specific products, services, procedures, research, techniques, equipment, management, or the like. Your knowledge must not be of a type that is widely held throughout the industry, nor readily available within the United States.

If you meet the eligibility criteria, take a look at the application process to better understand the documents you'll need.

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