The L-1 intra-company transferee visa is useful for multinational companies seeking to transfer high-level managerial and specialized knowledge employees from overseas to provide services in a similar capacity to a related entity in the United States. Generally, eligibility requirements include work in a foreign country for one continuous year within the three years preceding the application in an executive, managerial, or specialized knowledge capacity for a qualifying, related business entity for which he/she seeks to work in the United States.
The L classification, which originated in 1970, was designed to facilitate the temporary transfer of foreign nationals’ management, executive, and specialized knowledge skills to the United States to continue employment with an office of the same employer, its parent, branch, subsidiary, or affiliate. The Immigration Act of 1990 (IMMACT) made several modifications to the existing L category.
- IMMACT changed the definition of “manager” in the INA to include mangers of a “department, subdivision, function, or component of the organization” or those managers that manage an “essential function” within the company.
- IMMACT removed L nonimmigrants from those categories being “presumed to be an immigrant.” L aliens are specifically excluded from the intending immigrant presumption of section 214(b) of the INA and are, furthermore, not required to have a residence abroad which they have no intention of abandoning. In addition, INA 214(h) provides that an alien who has sought permanent residence in the United States is not precluded from obtaining an L nonimmigrant visa or otherwise obtaining ormaintaining that status.
- IMMACT specified new limitations on the period of stay for L visa holders: seven years for executives/managers9 and five years for specialized knowledge personnel.
- IMMACT modified the definition of “affiliate” to include the international partnership agreements used by international accounting firms11 and mandated a “blanket” petition process to accelerate the admission of individual L nonimmigrants.
- IMMACT also modified the requirement that the beneficiary have been employed by the petitioner for at least one year immediately prior to the submission of the petition. The new, less restrictive requirement to qualify an L-1 employee was any one year of the prior three.
USCIS describes intracompany transferees as belonging to one of two subcategories:
- L-1A is an alien coming temporarily to perform services in a managerial or executive capacity.
- L-1B is an alien coming temporarily to perform services that entail specialized knowledge. Specialized knowledge is special knowledge of the employer’s product or its application in international markets or anadvanced level of knowledge of the employer’s processes and procedures. L-1 beneficiaries15 must have worked abroad for the petitioning corporation or firm, or for a branch, subsidiary, or affiliate of the petitioning company for one continuous year within a three-year period immediately preceding the filing of the petition. These time-of-service limitations are intended to limit the L-visa to existing foreign employees, sent to the United States temporarily, and to preclude companies from hiring abroad for U.S. vacancies. Other temporary worker visa programs, such as the E, H, J, O and P, are designed to accommodate other kinds of employment: entrepreneur investors; business trainees; aliens of extraordinary ability in arts, science, education, business, or athletics; internationally recognized athletes, entertainers, and fashion models; and aliens coming temporarily to participate in an international cultural exchange program. Both the entertainment industry and professional sports employ many temporary workers, and a number of business executives playing leading roles in U.S. companies were initially transferred to the United States on temporary worker visas. To receive an L-1 visa, a petition must be filed with USCIS on behalf of the worker by a sponsoring firm. An L-1 petition, when approved, is used by a beneficiary to apply for an L-1 visa if abroad, or to change status if already in the United States. Canadian beneficiaries are reviewed for admission when they arrive at the border, because Canadians are exempt from most nonimmigrant visa requirements.
USCIS adjudicators examine many factors before approving an L-1 petition. Both the position that is going to be filled and the worker who will be hired must meet many criteria. Petitions that are complete and clearly meet the standards can be promptly approved. Other petitions require correspondence – a Request For Evidence (RFE) – between the service center and the petitioner to resolve unclear or incomplete submissions.
Unlike other temporary visa categories, L-1 entrants – just as H-1B entrants – may have the dual intent of immigrating to the United States while still intending to comply with his or her temporary immigrant status. In other words, the L-1 entrant may apply concurrently for permanents residency (“Green Card”) while maintaining temporary legal status under the L-1 visa.
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