Intracompany Transfers (L-1)
The purpose of the L visa is to permit a qualifying organization to transfer certain types of employees from a non-U.S. location to perform services in the United States for the same organization or its parent, branch, subsidiary, or affiliate. In order to qualify, the non-U.S. sending company and the U.S. receiving company must have at least 50% common ownership, or alternatively, one must effectively control the other.
To obtain an L-1 visa, a qualifying organization must submit a petition to the USCIS. Generally, a qualifying organization is any firm, corporation or legal entity (including a partnership) that continues to conduct business both in the United States and at least one other country during the L visa holder’s entire U.S. assignment.
The petition submitted on behalf of the employee must indicate that the employee has been employed with the organization abroad for at least one of the past three years as a manager, an executive, or in a position that requires specialized knowledge. It is not necessary that the employee perform the same function while working in the United States, as long as the employee performs one of the above three permitted functions.
Types of L Visas
Generally, a manager is defined as someone who: (i) manages the organization, a function, or some part thereof; (ii) supervises other managerial, supervisory or professional employees, or manages an essential function, department or subdivision; (iii) has the power to hire and fire employees; and (iv) has day-to- day discretion with respect to the operation of the organization or a part thereof.
An executive is a person who: (i) directs the management of the organization; (ii) establishes policies and goals; (iii) has discretionary decision-making capacities; and (iv) is only supervised by higher level executives or the organization’s board of directors.
A person with specialized knowledge is someone who has: (i) uncommon knowledge of the organization’s products, services, research, equipment, techniques, management or other interests and its application in international markets; or (ii) an advanced level of knowledge or expertise in the organization’s processes and procedures.
In certain circumstances, a company may file an L-1 blanket petition seeking continual approval of itself, its parent, and some or all of its branches, subsidiaries, and affiliates as qualifying organizations for purposes of sponsoring persons for L-1 intracompany transferee status. To qualify, the company and each of its related entities must be engaged in commercial trade or services. Additionally, the company must have an office in the United States that has been doing business for more than one year, and at least three domestic and foreign branches, subsidiaries, and affiliates. The U.S. company must also have: (i) obtained approvals for at least ten “L” visa professionals in the previous twelve months; (ii) U.S. subsidiaries or affiliates with combined annual sales of at least US $25 million; or (iii) a U.S. workforce of at least 1,000 employees.
Once the L-1 blanket petition is approved, the company does not have to file individual petitions with the USCIS for each employee. Rather, a person who meets the requirements for intracompany transferee status may obtain an L-1 visa at the U.S. Consulate or Embassy with jurisdiction over his or her residence abroad. Once a person is admitted under an approved L-1 blanket petition, he or she may be reassigned to any organization listed within the approved petition without notifying the USCIS, as long as the person is performing the same job duties.
Generally, the L-1 visa is granted, at the outset, for a maximum of three years, and can be renewed in two-year increments. For persons who are transferred to the United States to work for a new entity, the USCIS will approve L-1 Status for only one year at the outset. The maximum duration of stay for specialized knowledge professionals is five years; the maximum duration permitted for executives and managers is seven years. Unlike the H-1B visa program, the beneficiaries of L-1 status cannot extend status by pursuing lawful permanent residence application (commonly called “green card”) in the United States.
Spouses and minor children of L-1 visa holders may receive L-2 dependent visas. L-2 spouses are eligible to apply for employment authorization; however, the grant of employment authorization is not automatic. Rather, a request must be submitted to the USCIS. The spouse cannot commence employment in the United States until the request is approved and an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) is issued. The spousal employment authorization does not carry any minimum education or experience requirements, and allows the spouse to work for any employer in the United States.