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L1 and H1B Visa: What’s The Difference

The U.S. economy thrives, in part because U.S. companies work with some of the most qualified foreign professionals in the world. The country as a whole benefits when foreign executives, managers, and professionals with specialized knowledge share their talents with U.S. industries. When foreign nationals seek to work for U.S. companies on a temporary basis, they may opt to secure an L1 visa or an H1B visa, depending on their unique employment-related circumstances. 


How Does an L1 Visa Work?

There are two subcategories of L1 visas. The first (L1A) allows an eligible U.S. employer to transfer either a manager or an executive from an affiliated overseas office to a domestic office. Alternatively, foreign employers eager to establish an affiliated U.S. office can use this visa classification to transfer an executive or manager to the U.S. for this purpose. By contrast, the second subcategory (L1B) allows an eligible U.S. employer to transfer (from an affiliated foreign office) a professional employee with qualifying specialized knowledge to work at an eligible domestic office.

To be eligible for an L1 visa, an employee must have worked for the foreign company (that has a qualifying relationship with its counterpart in the U.S.) for a continuous year or more within the three years immediately before their entry date to the U.S. The employee must also meet minimum requirements for what it means to serve in an executive, managerial, or position of specialized knowledge during that continuous year. Once admitted to the U.S. under L1 visa status, an employee may remain in the U.S. working for its qualifying employer for a maximum stay of three years (unless establishing a new office, in which case the maximum stay is one year).

L1A visa holders may request extensions of stay in two-year increments for a maximum overall stay of seven years. L1B visa holders may request for the same extension of stay requirement. However, L1B visa holders are limited to a maximum stay of five years.


How Does an H1B Visa Work?

When an American company is in need of a temporary worker with specialized knowledge, it may choose to employ an H1B visa holder to meet that need. Most of the time, H1B visa holders must have earned a bachelor’s degree (or an equivalent) or higher in the field of the specialized knowledge that qualifies them for employment under this program. However, there are exceptions to this educational requirement when a candidate’s specialized knowledge in question is extensive enough that it essentially “stands in” for an educational equivalent. Generally, the specialized knowledge required for an H1B visa involves professional fields including engineering, scientific research, accounting, and teaching. However, fashion models may also qualify for entrance into the U.S. under this visa classification. As this particular visa program applies to a relatively wide variety of potential employees, anyone with questions about eligibility may benefit from speaking with an experienced immigration attorney.

Employers are required to file certain immigration documentation related to both the position they are seeking to fill and the prospective visa holder they’re hoping to hire. To be eligible as an H1B specialty occupation, the position that an employer is seeking to fill must generally be filled by a candidate who has a bachelor’s degree or higher, or, according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, “The nature of the specific duties is so specialized and complex that the knowledge required to perform the duties is usually associated with the attainment of a bachelor’s or higher degree.”

An employer generally can’t sponsor an H1B visa applicant until that employer has conducted a Labor Condition Application and submitted that LCA to the Department of Labor for certification. An LCA essentially confirms that the employer won’t take advantage of the visa holder. Specifically, it confirms that the visa holder will receive a wage that is (at minimum) equivalent to similarly qualified workers and that the visa holder will be provided working conditions that “will not adversely affect other similarly employed workers.”


What Makes L1 and H1B Visas Distinct?

There is one important distinction between L1 and H1B visa status. A strict cap is placed on the number of H1B visa holders that are allowed to enter the U.S. on an annual basis. Practically speaking, this can mean that it is much more difficult for aspiring H1B visa holders to secure visas for their ideal start date. Another benefit of L1 visa status is that the spouses of L1 visa holders are eligible for employment in the U.S. whereas spouses of H1B visa holders generally are not.

Another critical difference between these two visa processes concerns employer eligibility. Not all work-related visas require the employer of an aspiring visa holder to meet specific requirements and to file paperwork to that effect. However, both L1 and H1B sponsoring employers are held to strict eligibility requirements. L1 employers must have a qualifying relationship with the current foreign employer of the aspiring visa holder. A new company must have an existing branch, affiliate, parent company, etc. in the U.S. and that qualifying company must be where the L1 visa holder will assume their position. The exception being if a new company that’s being established in the U.S. by the foreign employer. Employers of H1B visa holders must generally just be U.S. companies and have submitted required LCAs to the DOL prior to hiring the visa holder.


Visa Assistance Is Available

Our immigration attorneys have extensive experience assisting both individuals and companies with their work-related immigration needs. Regardless of the size of the sponsoring company in question or its industry type, our immigration team can help everyone involved in this transition with navigating the visa application process and maintaining visa status compliance requirements. We look forward to learning more about your situation and about how we can be of service to you.


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