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L1 Visa: Requirements, Processing, and L1 Visa to Green Card
At a Glance
- The L1 visa facilitates the transfer of professionals from a foreign company to the same company in the United States.
- It is a temporary nonimmigrant visa designed for intracompany transferees, with two types: L1A for managers and executives, and L1B for specialized knowledge workers.
- Qualifying for the L1 visa requires a relationship between the employer’s US and foreign branches, and the applicant must have worked for the foreign employer for at least one year.
- The application process involves forms DS-160 and I-129, followed by consular processing, and L1 visa holders can eventually apply for permanent residency through a green card.
For many foreign workers who wish to one day work and reside in the United States, starting the process can be the most difficult part. Trying to navigate informational websites and understand the processes can be time-consuming, frustrating, and complicated.
We know how difficult it is to gather all of the essential information needed, so we put together this guide for you! Here you will find everything you need to know about L1 visas and most importantly, how to obtain an L1 visa and start your path to living in the United States.
What is the L1 Visa?
An L1 visa facilitates the transfer of professionals working for a company in a foreign country to the same company in the United States. These visa holders are known as intracompany transferees since, unlike other work visas, they already work for the company they plan on joining in the US.
L1 visas are temporary nonimmigrant visas, and therefore applicants must provide proof that they have intent on immigrating to the US before receiving the visa. However, L1 visa holders may eventually apply for permanent residency in the US through a green card.
The L2 visa exists for dependents of L1 visa holders. Read more about the L2 visa process here.
Types of L1 Visas
There are two types of L1 Visas depending on the type of work the visa holder performs.
L1A visas are designated for managers and executives who meet criteria specifically defined by the USCIS.
- Executives can make decisions of wide latitude without much oversight
- Managers supervise and control the work of employees and manage the organization or a subdivision of the organization
Those with L1B visas perform work requiring specialized knowledge. This means that they either have advanced knowledge of the organization’s processes or special knowledge of the organization’s products, services, equipment, research, or other interests and applications.
Check out our L1B visa guide to learn more.
L1 Visa Requirements
There are two main requirements for an L1 visa: petitioner (employer) requirements and employee requirements.
The employer within the US and its foreign branch/subsidiary/affiliate that employs the applicant abroad must have a qualifying relationship. This shows that the two entities are in some way tied to each other through their ownership or organization.
In addition, throughout the visa holder’s stay in the US, the employer must be doing business in the US and at least one other country.
Under an L1 visa, the applicant must have been employed by the foreign employer for at least one continuous year within the previous three years before their admission into the U.S.
This year of employment must have been in a managerial, executive, or specialized knowledge field, and their prospective employers in the U.S. must be within those same fields.
L1 Visa Application Process
Fortunately, the L1 visa application process is much simpler than other types of visas. There are three main steps within this process.
1. Form DS-160: Nonimmigrant Visa Application
The applicant’s foreign employer begins the visa application process by submitting the non-immigrant visa application (Form DS-160) online. This application must include the following items:
- Two current passport-sized photographs
- A copy of the applicant’s US passport
2. Form I-129: Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker
After submitting the DS-160 form, the employer files an L1 petition for a nonimmigrant worker (Form I-129). This petition must be filed at least 45 days before the employee’s start date, and no more than 6 months before employment begins.
3. Consular Processing
After both forms are approved, the applicant currently outside of the US needs to go to their home country’s consulate or embassy to interview with a consular officer and apply for their visa. After the consulate approves the applicant, the visa is issued!
If you want to brush up ahead of your interview, check out our guide to L1 visa interview questions.
The process for each country’s consulate varies, but more information can be found through the home country’s consular website.
L1 Visa Processing Times
The L1 Visa processing time varies depending on the USCIS service center and the country from where the applicant applies.
Typically, the average processing time for the I-129 petition is around six months. Consulate processing varies based on the home country but can be expected to take up to six months or longer. You can find more information on your specific consulate L1 processing time through your home country’s consular website.
The USCIS does provide premium processing to reduce the typical six-month processing time to only 15 days. However, this does come with a fee of $1,225.
Financial Considerations for L1 Visa Holders
Obtaining an L1 visa in the U.S. opens some financial doors that visa holders could not previously access. While L1 visa holders are subject to the same tax laws as all American citizens, they can also apply for loans in the U.S. and obtain mortgages to buy homes.
L1 Visa to Green Card
Want to reside in the US permanently? By going from an L1 visa to a green card, you can! L1 visa holders are eligible to apply for a green card, but the process varies depending on if the holder has an L1A or L1B visa.
For more detailed info, read our full article on how to transfer from the L1 visa to a green card.
L1A Visa to Green Card
An L1A visa holder has a relatively simple process of obtaining a green card because they apply under an EB-1C green card. This doesn’t require a PERM Labor Certification, shaving up to 8 months off of the processing period.
To apply for the green card, the employer only needs to file an I-140 petition. Once approved, the applicant files for an adjustment of status (Form I-485).
L1B Visa to Green Card
The L1B Visa to green card process is similar to the L1A visa to green card process, with the additional requirement of a PERM Labor Certification. This requires the employer to show proof that you (a foreign worker) are not taking away jobs qualified US workers. In addition, the employer must show that they will be paying at least the prevailing wage for the work in the area of intended employment. Meaning, that the immigrant the employer plans to hire is not receiving a smaller wage than what is typical of the job in the area.
After the PERM Labor Certification, the employer files an I-140 petition, and once approved, the applicant files the adjustment of status form I-485.
L1 Visa Extension Process and Renewal
The process for obtaining an L1 visa extension is, more or less, the same as the process for getting the original L1 visa. It requires your employer to file a new petition on your behalf prior to the expiration date on your I-94 form.
L1 Visa Extension Documents
Filing an L1 visa extension requires several documents. These documents are listed below:
- Proof of the beneficiary’s employment for the duration of their time in the U.S.
- Evidence of the beneficiaries U.S. work-relevant degree (or foreign equivalent)
- Letter for a foreign employer detailing the beneficiary’s previous three years of employment
- Support letter from petitioner, including alien’s salary, job duties, terms of employment, etc.
- USCIS filing fee
- Summary and proof of travel history outside of the U.S. (boarding passes, passport stamps, etc.)
- Completed I-129 Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker
For those L1 visa holders who wish to extend their spouse or dependants visa statuses as well, your employer must file an I-539 form with your I-129 form.
For a more in-depth look at the L1 visa extension/renewal process, check out our guide to L1 visa renewal!
L1 Visa Extension Processing Time
Premium processing for L1 visas is available at an additional cost when the employer is filing the petition. La premium processing typically takes up to 15 calendar days and costs $1,225.
If expedited processing is not required, a regular processing fee is available.
L1 Visa Extension Fees
Because the process for extending an L1 vis is so similar to the initial application process, the filing fees are, more or less, the same. Your employer will be responsible for the below-listed costs:
- I-129 basic filing fee of $460
- Fraud Prevention and Detection Fee of $500
Some costs from the initial filing will not need to be paid for an extension, including Public Law 114-113 fee and ACWIA fee. If premium processing is desired, the cost can be covered by you or your employer.
Any L2 dependent visa extensions will be subject to a $370 filing fee for the I-539 form.
How does the L1 Visa compare to other visas?
There are many visa options for those who wish to work in the US.
L1 vs. H1B
An H1B visa allows U.S. employers to employ foreign workers in specialty occupations. The L1 visa is most often compared to the H1B visa because they both are nonimmigrant visas that bring foreign workers into the US to work for US employers. However, there are many key differences between the L1 and H1B visas, including employer eligibility and maximum duration of stay.
Overall, an L1 visa is more fitting for multinational companies with foreign affiliates, and for individuals that do not meet the strict H1B requirements.
L1 vs. E1 and E2
Similar to the L1 visa, E1 and E2 visas allow foreign executives, managers, or specialty-knowledge workers to work within the US. However, E1 and E2 visa holders must work for companies that are engaged in large amounts of trade or investments with the United States.
Although any foreign worker can hold an L1 visa, only workers from countries that have a bilateral investment treaty or treaty of commerce and navigation with the United States can hold E1 and E2 visas.
- How to Change from an L1A Visa to a Green Card
- L2 EAD: Everything You Need to Know
- L2 Visa: The Complete Guide
- The Complete Guide to L1 Visa Interview Questions
- L1 Visa: Requirements, Processing, and L1 Visa to Green Card
- The Complete Guide to L1 Visa Renewal
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
What is the L-1 visa?
The L-1 visa is a non-immigrant visa category in the United States that allows multinational companies to transfer employees from a foreign office to a U.S. office temporarily. It is designed to facilitate the transfer of key personnel, such as managers, executives, and specialized knowledge employees, to work in the U.S. branch, subsidiary, affiliate, or parent company.
What are the main types of L-1 visas?
There are two primary types of L-1 visas:
- L-1A Visa: This visa is for managers and executives being transferred to the U.S. company. It allows for a maximum initial stay of up to three years, with the possibility of extension.
- L-1B Visa: This visa is for employees with specialized knowledge or skills being transferred to the U.S. company. It also allows for a maximum initial stay of up to three years, with the possibility of extension.
What are the requirements for an L-1 visa?
To qualify for an L-1 visa, the applicant and the employing companies must meet specific requirements, including:
- The U.S. and foreign companies must have a qualifying relationship.
- The employee must have been employed with the foreign company for a specific duration.
- The employee must be coming to the U.S. to work in a managerial, executive, or specialized knowledge capacity.
How is the L-1 visa application process?
The L-1 visa application process typically involves these steps:
- The U.S. employer files Form I-129 (Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker) with the USCIS on behalf of the employee.
- Once the petition is approved, the employee applies for an L-1 visa at the U.S. consulate or embassy in their home country.
- After the visa is granted, the employee can enter the U.S. and begin working for the U.S. company.
Is it possible to transition from an L-1 visa to a Green Card (permanent residency)?
Yes, it is possible to transition from an L-1 visa to a Green Card (permanent residency) through employment-based immigration pathways. The most common option is the EB-1C immigrant visa category, which is designed for multinational managers and executives. Eligibility for the EB-1C category includes having worked in a managerial or executive role for the foreign company and the U.S. company for a specific duration.
Can L-1 visa holders bring their dependents to the U.S.?
Yes, L-1 visa holders can bring their dependents, including spouses and unmarried children under the age of 21, to the U.S. Spouses of L-1 visa holders may apply for work authorization to legally work in the U.S., while children can attend school.
How long can L-1 visa holders stay in the U.S.?
L-1 visa holders can initially stay in the U.S. for up to three years. L-1A visa holders (managers and executives) can extend their stay for a maximum of seven years, while L-1B visa holders (specialized knowledge employees) can extend their stay for a maximum of five years. Extensions are subject to meeting certain requirements.
Can L-1 visa holders apply for U.S. citizenship?
L-1 visa holders can apply for U.S. citizenship (naturalization) after meeting the eligibility criteria, which typically includes being a lawful permanent resident (Green Card holder) for at least five years (or three years if married to a U.S. citizen), demonstrating good moral character, and passing a citizenship test and interview. The process of obtaining U.S. citizenship is separate from the L-1 visa itself.