The United States L1 visa is a non-immigrant visa which allows overseas companies to transfer employees under two types of L1 visa schemes. For L1 visa transfers of executives and managers including business owners for up to seven years there is the L1A visa, and for specialized knowledge employees the L1B visa allows entry for up to five years to a new or existing US office. To qualify for an L1 visa the employee, which can include business owners, must have worked for a subsidiary, parent, affiliate or branch office of the US company outside of the US for at least one year out of the last three years.

One of the benefits of the L1 visa is that there is no quota.   Unlike in the case of the H1B category, an unlimited number of visas can be issued.  However, unless the company is a very large company with blanket filing a considerable amount of documentation needs to be submitted for each L1 visa petition to the USCIS in duplicate. Indians and Chinese nationals are able to come under the L1 visa category.  They are unable to come under the E2 visa and E1 visa which is limited only to certain nationalities.

Business owners can also apply for L1 Visa

This can be an excellent way for businesses including small businesses to expand into the US with a minimal investment.  However, the business outside the US should continue trading even after the L1 visa holder has entered the US.  Business owners who have worked for the business outside the US for one year in the last three years, wishing to set up a business in the US can apply without having to make a large investment of at least half a million dollars as required under the EB5 immigrant investor scheme.

L1 Visa and Employment Based EB1C Green Card

The requirements for employment based immigration (permanent residence) under the EB1C immigrant scheme are similar to the requirements for the L1A Executive and Manager visa category.  Many overseas executives and managers including business owners come under the L1A visa scheme first and then apply at a later date for EB1C as an international manager or executive which is one of the best ways of gaining an employment based immigration visa (Green card). 

As you need to show that you have worked for the business outside the US for at least one year in the last three years, you need to apply for the EB1C immigrant visa within two years of entry to the US on an L1 visa. The business needs to have been established in the US for at least one year before you can apply under this green card scheme. 

Companies operating in the US can apply to the relevant USCIS service center for an L1 intra-company transfer visa to transfer someone to the US from their overseas operations. Employees in this category will, initially, be granted an L1 visa for up to three years.  For a new office (that has been in operation for less than a year) the L1 visa is granted for one year.

There are two types of employee who may be sponsored for USA L1 visa:

  • L1A Executives and Managers

L1 Visa requirements for management and executive roles for these purposes is quite strict, and a detailed description of the duties attached to the position will be required. In particular, the executive or manager should have supervisory responsibility for professional staff and/or for a key function of the department or subdivision of the employer. Such personnel are issued an L1A visa, initially for a three year period extendible in two year increments to a maximum of seven years.  For a new US office entry for an L1 visa is granted for one year.

  • L1B Specialized Knowledge Staff

This category covers those with knowledge of the company’s products/services, research, systems, proprietary techniques, management, or procedures. This should be explained in some detail when applying for the L1 visa.  Staffs in this category are issued an L1B visa, initially for three years extendable to a maximum of five years.

On completing the maximum allowable period in L1 visa status, the employee must be employed outside the United States for a minimum of one year before a new application is made for L or H status.