What is the Difference Between an L1-Blanket and an L1-Individual Visa?

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United States Citizenship and Immigration Services issues a number of different visa types on an annual basis. Some of the visa types that foreign nationals may apply for are fairly broad in nature. For example, B-1 and B-2 visas allow individuals to travel to the U.S. for up to one year for pleasure, medical treatment or fairly general business purposes. Other visa types are quite specific. For example, L-1A and L-1B visas are only issued to currently employed individuals seeking an intracompany transfer to a new U.S. branch, subsidiary or affiliate office associated with their current foreign-based company. It is perhaps not surprising that the application process associated with fairly broad visa categories is less complex and less nuanced than the application process for more specific visa categories is. Similarly, the requirements that individuals must meet tend to be more detailed and rigorous when their visa category is highly specific in nature.

Each individual seeking to complete a qualifying intracompany transfer must be eligible to obtain either an L-1A or an L1-B visa. These visas must be granted on an individual basis, but eligible companies can cut down on processing time for multiple transfers if they seek a blanket authorization. Companies seeking to transfer numerous employees either at once or over time may benefit from exploring the blanket visa process with an attorney. This process allows companies to avoid having to repeatedly prove corporate eligibility for individual L-1A and L1-B visa petitions. The blanket process cuts down on processing time, which is a plus. However, companies must work with an attorney to determine their eligibility for a blanket process before committing to it, as the corporate eligibility requirements associated with blanket approvals are both nuanced and strictly enforced.

It is partially because the area of immigration and travel law that centers on visa application is so challenging to navigate that it is generally a good idea for aspiring visa applicants and corporate sponsors to consult an experienced immigration attorney as early in their planning process as possible. Before an applicant can be sure of the timeframe associated with applying for a visa, the kinds of documentation that must be produced and what their application process will entail moving forward, that individual must be able to identify which visa is right for his or her situation. An attorney experienced in this area of law will be able to advise an applicant regarding visa type selection once he or she learns about the specifics of the applicant’s circumstances. When the correct visa type has been identified, an attorney will be able to provide guidance and support at every subsequent step of the application process.


L-1A Visas

In order to qualify for an L-1A visa, an employee must serve in an executive or managerial company within a foreign office affiliated with the company petitioning for the candidate’s visa. Before serving in this capacity in a U.S. branch or qualifying organization, an employee must generally have worked for a foreign office of the company for a minimum of one continuous year within the three years immediately prior to entering the United States.

According to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, to be considered an executive, a candidate must be granted the ability to make far-reaching decisions without a great deal of oversight. By contrast, to be considered a manager, a candidate must be granted the authority to either “supervise and control the work of professional employees and to manage the organization, or a department, subdivision, function, or component of the organization” or “manage an essential function of the organization at a high level, without direct supervision of others.”


L-1B Visas

In order to qualify for an L1-B visa, a candidate must possess so-called “special knowledge” of the petitioning company’s “product, service, research, equipment, techniques, management, or other interests and its application in international markets, or an advanced level of knowledge or expertise in the organization’s processes and procedures.” This visa classification does not require an individual to have a specific level of authority or oversight.


Individual vs. Blanket Visas

Sometimes a company only wishes to transfer an employee from a foreign office to a qualifying U.S. office every once in awhile. Under such circumstances, it generally makes sense to work with an attorney in order to submit individual L-1A and/or L1-B visa applications for each candidate. However, when companies wish to complete transfers on a larger scale, they may benefit from taking advantage of the blanket visa process.

In either case, a company must first meet the terms of specific guidelines before petitioning the government on either an individual or blanket basis. In order for a company’s employees to qualify for the L visa process, that company must have a qualifying relationship with a foreign company. A qualifying relationship may take the form of foreign branches, affiliates, subsidiaries or parent companies. Throughout the L visa process, these company relationships with foreign entities are referred to as qualifying organizations. In addition to maintaining a relationship with a foreign qualifying organization, a company must (presently or will be doing so by the time the L1-A/L1-B candidates begin working in the U.S.) be conducting business as a U.S. employer and as an employer in a foreign nation. This foreign business may be conducted either directly or through a qualifying organization. Importantly, both of these conditions must be met for the duration of the visa candidates’ stay in America. However, these eligibility mandates only require that such businesses be viable, not that they necessarily be engaged in international trade.

A business must prove these eligibility requirements in order to submit individual or blanket petitions. However, blanket petitions cut down on preparation and processing time because they do not require companies to prove corporate eligibility over and over again. But because the blanket petition process does allow for significant transfers without repeatedly proving corporate eligibility, the U.S. government places additional mandates upon those companies seeking to take advantage of the blanket process instead of submitting individual L visa petitions for each candidate. These requirements provide that the petitioning company must have three or more foreign qualifying domestic and foreign branches, subsidiaries and/or affiliates and each must be engaged in commercial trade. In addition, at least one U.S. office must have been doing business for a minimum of one year. Collectively, the petitioning company and its other qualifying organizations must have combined annual sales of at least $25 million, a U.S. work force numbering at least 1,000 and must have obtained a minimum of 10 individual L-1 approvals during the last 12-month period of time.

Once a company is approved for the blanket process, it does not need to prove corporate eligibility for every L-1A and L-1B application moving forward. Instead, it simply needs to send a Form I-129S with a copy of the blanket approval notice along with the employee when that candidate presents an application to a U.S. embassy or consular office during the L-1 visa application process. A blanket approval helps to ensure that qualifying companies can transfer employees quickly and on short notice. It also cuts down on L-1 visa preparation time moving forward. Please note that there are some exceptions to the blanket process in which a specific candidate may need to process an application via an individualized process despite corporate clearance to use the blanket approval. In addition, there are some differences in the ways in which Canadian citizens process the blanket approval. These are just two reasons why it is so important to work with an attorney in regards to your specific circumstances. Although many U.S. immigration processes are fairly streamlined, there are exceptions to virtually every general rule. Attorneys can help to identify these exceptions so that they can be appropriately handled and not result in undue delays to the visa application process.

Although each individual seeking a transfer via an L-1A or an L1-B visa must meet the individualized eligibility requirements mandated by the terms of those visas, both individual and blanket petitions must be formally submitted by companies employing candidates, not by the candidates themselves. As a result, it is important for companies to work with experienced immigration attorneys when filing L-1A or L1-B visa applications, regardless of whether they are individual or blanket in nature.


Immigration Assistance Is Available

The L-1 visa process is unquestionably complex and time-intensive, so it is important to “get a jump on things” in order to ensure that your candidates receive their visas in time to start work whenever you need them to be cleared to enter the U.S. If you know that you have one or more candidates eligible for the L-1 visa process, please consider contacting LawTrades today in order to schedule a consultation with one of our experienced immigration attorneys. We will be happy to answer any questions you may have about the options associated with applying for individual visas versus blanket visas before we begin working to support your corporate and individual candidate’s eligibility for the L-1 visa program.