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L1 Visa: Business and Immigration Pathway for Multinational Companies and their Employees

Law Offices of Yu & Associates

Doing business globally is not just the prerogative of large multinational companies like Apple and Walmart, but is also a strategic option for medium and small companies and organizations, and sought after by businesspeople throughout the world as well. But for companies outside the US, how to send personnel to the US and successfully begin doing business in the US is a difficult problem. There are many ways to do business in and even immigrate to the US, but this article will introduce just one of them: the L-1 visa, which is intended for transferring senior business personnel to the US.

1. What are the advantages of the L-1 visa?

First, L-1 is a nonimmigrant visa category for international companies with offices in both the US and another country to transfer executive, management or technical personnel from the parent company abroad to the branch office in the US. There is no annual cap, and the period of stay is relatively long, making the L-1 visa a fairly stable option for sending executive or managerial personnel to the US. By contrast, although the B visa for business visitors is very easy to obtain, the period of stay is very short, allowing only a cursory visit and not providing enough time to find partner enterprises or develop your business, and the B visa does not allow people to work in the US.

Third, an L-1 visa holder can apply for permanent residency, that is, a green card. Although the L-1 visa holder must leave the US after his or her stay expires, this type of visa allows dual intent C that is, you can have nonimmigrant and immigrant intent at the same time. To put it another way, applying for a green card will not affect one's L-1 status (which is not the case with all temporary visas). Just as with the H-1B work visa, the visa holder can apply for a green card through the EB1C route while staying in the US under an L-1 visa, even though it's a nonimmigrant (temporary) work visa. In addition, an L-1A multinational manager or executive who is applying for a green card does not need to undergo labor certification. An L-1A visa holder can apply for an employment-based immigration visa for managers and executives (EB1C) once the company has been operating in the US for one year and is in good financial shape.

Fourth, the threshold for L-1 is much lower than for investor immigration, which requires an investment of $500,000 to $1 million. Also, EB-5 immigrant investors first receive a conditional green card and must later apply to remove the conditions; L-1 visa holders do not need to do this, but can receive a regular ten-year permanent green card directly. Requirements for L-1 also differ from EB-5 in other ways, such as requiring a legitimate multinational company structure, a financially sound company and employing a certain number of employees.

2. Types of L-1 visas

There are two types of L-1 visas: L-1A, for managers and executives of multinational companies, and L-1B, for specialized knowledge professionals. L-1B visas are usually used by large-scale companies, as L-1B visas are for personnel who have specialized knowledge or technical skills relating to the company's operation, products or market. Unlike L-1A visa holders, L-1B visa holders who apply for a green card must undergo labor certification.

L-1A visas will usually be initially given with an authorized stay of three years, although if the company is sending the L-1A visa holder to set up a new branch office, then he or she will initially be given a visa for one year only. After this, the visa can be extended in two year increments up to maximum of 7 years. L-1B visas will usually be given for a period of three years, and can only be extended once for an additional two years, giving a maximum of five years. After the visa holder has stayed up to the maximum, he or she must leave the US for one year before applying for another L visa.

3. Requirements for L-1 visa

  1. The overseas company which is petitioning for an L-1 visa must have a subsidiary company in the US. The purpose of the subsidiary is to develop the parent company's business in the US. If the subsidiary company already exists, then both the parent and subsidiary company should be thriving. No matter whether the subsidiary company already exists or you are setting up a new subsidiary company, the parent company should control 51% or more of the subsidiary's shares.
  2. The foreign citizen for whom the company is petitioning must have worked for the parent company continuously for at least one year in the past three years, and his or her position at the parent company should be similar to the position for which he or she is being sent to the US, such as management or technical personnel.
  3. The parent company must invest funds in the subsidiary company to support its startup and operation. The amount of funds does not need to be very large, but at the least it must support the subsidiary company's regular expenses.

4. Application procedure for L-1 visa

  1. If the US subsidiary company has not yet been established, then the first step is to choose a suitable organizational structure and register a company in the US to serve as the US subsidiary.
  2. Prepare thorough documentation and submit the petition to US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Usually, you'll get a response within a few months, or if you use USCIS's Premium Processing service, then you should find out within 15 days whether the petition has been approved.
  3. After the case has been approved, USCIS will inform the US consulate in the company's home country, and the applicant can go to the consulate to obtain the L-1 visa. If the applicant has already entered the US, then the approval notice serves as his or her proof of legal change of status.
  4. If the US subsidiary keeps up operation for one year and is doing well, then the L-1 visa holder can apply for a green card through EB1C immigration petition. It usually takes several months to process the application. Once the immigrant visa is approved, the applicant can adjust status and obtain a green card, which usually takes about another several months.

5. Documentation required for L-1 visa

Based on past experience, USCIS reviews L-1 petitions very closely. If the documentation that is submitted is properly prepared, however, the chance of success is still very high. In short, the required documentation includes:

  • Materials concerning the parent company's situation, such as business licenses, financial reports, organizational structure, etc.;
  • Materials concerning the US subsidiary, such as founding and registration documents, business licenses, a list of members of the Board of Directors, distribution of shares, rental lease agreement for office space, etc., as well as a description of the US subsidiary's management and employment of US workers;
  • Materials on the applicant, such as his or her resume, appointment letter, academic degrees, work history, etc.

6. Successful L-1 cases

We have successfully guided numerous companies through the L-1 process, from setting up a subsidiary in the US to applying for L-1 visas and eventually green cards.

In one recent case, an international hearing aid manufacturing company located in Xiamen, China retained us to help them obtain an L-1A visa to transfer their Vice President of Sales from China to lead a new office in the US. The applicant had outstanding qualifications as an executive of the parent company, and we convincingly showed that she and the parent company met the L-1A requirements. However, due to the fact that the new office had only a few employees, we received a Request for Evidence (RFE). Drawing on our long experience with L-1 cases, we crafted a persuasive analysis to show that the US office could support an executive or managerial position. Thanks to our diligent efforts, the case was finally approved.

The above is a general introduction to immigration policies, and should not be construed as individual legal advice. For specific legal questions, please contact the Law Offices of Yu & Associates. Attorney Xiaohui (Sharon) Yu is a graduate of New York University School of Law, one of the top five law schools in the US, and has practiced law at some of the top firms in the US, UK and China.

Tel: 301-838-8986, Fax: 202-595-1918; E-mail:, Address: 110 N. Washington St., Suite 328E, Rockville, MD 20850. (All rights reserved.)

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