L1 Visa: The Application Process

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The L1 visa process allows a foreign worker to seek a temporary, intracompany transfer from a foreign office to an office in the United States. The U.S. office where the L1 visa holder may transfer can be a branch, subsidiary, or affiliate of the worker’s current employer or its parent company. An L1 visa holder may be referred to as an intracompany transferee. The spouse and unmarried children (under the age of 21) of an L1 visa holder may accompany the transferee to the U.S. To successfully accompany the transferee, the spouse and/or children must obtain L2 visas. Some work visa types are restricted to foreign nationals of countries with active treaties with the U.S. However, L1 visas are open to foreign nationals of any nation. 

Most frequently, these visas are used to facilitate the transfer of employees of large, multinational corporations. However, they are increasingly used to help smaller companies expand their reach within the global marketplace. Another unique feature of L1 visas is that they are considered “dual intent” visas. Meaning, foreign nationals seeking L1 visa status don’t have to prove that they have no intent to become an immigrant. Visas are usually granted to those who can demonstrate that they intend to return to their home countries for residency. L1 visa applicants are not held to this standard of intent. As a result, those intending to become green card holders at a later date may file for L1 visa status.


L1 Visa Applicants – Basic Requirements

As previously noted, only intracompany transferees seeking work in the U.S. with their current employer, its parent company, a subsidiary, or an affiliate may seek L1 visa status. The L1 visa applicant must meet certain requirements in their current position and fulfill certain requirements when working in the U.S. In their foreign employment position, the applicant must be classified as a manager, executive or have qualifying specialized knowledge. 

Note that each of these classifications is defined in nuanced ways by the U.S. government. Managers and executives are eligible to apply for L1-A visa status. Employees who hold specialized knowledge about the employer’s company, products, approach, etc. are eligible to apply for L1-B visa status. In either case, the applicant must work for the employer (in a foreign office) in a qualifying capacity for at least a year before seeking an intracompany transfer. This year or more of employment in the foreign office must have occurred in the three years before the employee seeks L1 visa status.


L1 Visa Holders – Arrival

Once the L1 visa holder arrives in the U.S., they must work in a similar capacity (manager, executive, position of specialized knowledge) in the company’s domestic office(s). When in the U.S., the L1 visa holder doesn’t necessarily have to work full-time for their qualifying employer. However, they do have to work for their employer regularly, systematically, and for a significant period of time. For example, an executive who only attends a few client lunches each month would not meet continuing eligibility requirements for L1 visa status. However, an executive who works 30 hours each week for the qualifying employer will likely meet continuing L1 visa status requirements.

L1 visa holders cannot work part-time for non-qualifying employers. Similarly, L1 visa holders may generally only study in the U.S. if the education program is limited and incidental to their position of employment. Although L1 visa holders may work at multiple sites in the U.S. run by their qualifying employer, assuming a new position for a different affiliate of that employer requires an alternate L1 visa petition.


Applying for an L1 Visa

Interestingly, it is not the aspiring L1 visa holder that ultimately applies for L1 visa status. The employee must rely on their employer to submit an L1 visa petition to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services agency on their behalf. This petition is referred to ask Form DS-160. It is generally submitted online through the U.S. State Department’s website.

Although it is the employer who submits this petition, the aspiring visa holder needs to supply supporting documentation for the application. For example, the applicant must produce a copy of their valid passport. Additionally, the applicant must have their photograph taken according to USCIS guidelines. Two copies of a full-face passport photograph must accompany the employer’s L1 visa petition. Applicants are also required to submit a resume, contact information for two coworkers and photos of their place of business. Finally, they need to submit proof that they’ve scheduled their visa interview and their job description.


L1 Visa Supporting Documentation

The employer must also attach supporting documentation to the petition, including a Form 1-129. Form 1-129 is commonly referred to as an L1 Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker. It must be submitted between 45 days and six months before U.S. employment is set to begin. The employer must also outline the employee’s eligibility for an L1 visa. It must also prove that its U.S. office (branch, affiliate, etc.) where the L1 visa holder will work is a qualifying office for this visa type. A Form DS-160 must also be filed.

This form allows USCIS a broader understanding of the visa applicants goals and intentions in regard to living and working in the U.S. Application fees must be submitted at the time the petition is sent to the USCIS. Processing this petition can take anywhere from one to five months. Employers may pay an additional fee to expedite the process. Generally, premium processing allows L1 visa petitions to be determined within roughly 15 days.


L1 Visa Interview: The Basics

Most L1 visa applicants are required to interview at the U.S. embassy or consulate in their country of residence. The government needs to ask questions related to the visa applicant’s employment. These questions help to determine whether an applicant is properly classified as a manager, executive or employee with specialized knowledge.

As long as an applicant is eligible for an L1 visa, the interview process shouldn’t be stressful. As long as the applicant speaks honestly about their job and their transfer situation, the interview should be straightforward. All L1 visa applicants will be asked about their current positions, work experience and job descriptions. They will also be asked about their education, training, their sponsoring employer, and their salary. Finally, all applicants will be asked about the employment positions they plan to assume in the U.S.

L1-A Visa vs. L1-B Visa Interviews

L1-A visa applicants will be asked specific questions dependent on their classification as a manager/executive or as an employee with specialized knowledge. For example, L1-A managers and executives may be asked about their budgetary authority and/or decision-making authority. They may be asked how many employees report to them and whether they have hiring and firing authority. They may also be asked broad questions about how their position influences the daily operations of their employer.

By contrast, L1-B employees will be asked about their specialized knowledge. This classification is harder to prove, so corresponding interview questions tend to be more detailed. These visa candidates may be asked about their skill sets and what makes their knowledge more specialized than that of others. Questions may include what projects they have worked on, tools or methods they have developed, and/or products they have helped create. Similarly, they may be asked why it is imperative that they be transferred to the U.S. The government will want to know why the employee’s knowledge is so specialized that they are being sent to the U.S. as opposed to someone else.


L1 Visa Interview Process Tips

Preparing for the interview process is important because it helps applicants to answer questions truthfully, clearly, and confidently. When an interviewer asks a question and an applicant becomes overly nervous, can’t answer, or otherwise stumbles, it may cause the interviewer to question the truthfulness of the applicant’s answers. Thinking through one’s answers in advance and rehearsing can help to settle one’s nerves in the interview setting.

Visa applicants should arrive to the interview on time, with copies of their visa petition, their passport, and other necessary documentation. They should dress professionally, or at least semi-professionally, to demonstrate respect and seriousness of purpose. It’s important to be respectful of the interviewer and to avoid vulgar language. Finally, it’s a good idea to avoid distracting behaviors, like nervous ticks, and distracting personal hygiene choices, like strong perfume.


Visa Application Assistance Is Available

If you’re interested in obtaining an L1 visa or represent a sponsoring company, consider connecting with LawTrades today. Our experienced immigration attorneys assist both individual visa candidates and sponsoring employers with every aspect of the visa process. Schedule a complimentary consultation with one of our immigration attorneys. We look forward to speaking with you.