Business analysisThe L-1 visa is a temporary non-immigrant working visa which allows companies to relocate qualified foreign employees to its U.S. subsidiary or parent company. The qualified employee must have worked for a subsidiary, parent, affiliate or branch office of the company for at least one year out of the last three years. The U.S. company must be a parent company, child company, or sister company to the foreign company. The L-1 visa may also include non-profit, religious, or charitable organizations. Full time employment is not required to maintain L status, but the employee “must dedicate a significant portion of time on a regular and systematic basis” to the company.

Commonly, people coming to the US on an L-1 visa are referred to asintracompany transferees, coming temporarily to perform services either:

  • in a managerial or executive capacity (L-1A) or
  • which entail specialized knowledge (L-1B)

for a parent, branch, subsidiary or affiliate of the same employer that employed the professional abroad. While there are a number of important requirements to qualify in this category, the category offers a number of advantages that make it worth considering over other types of visas. For example, there is no annual limit on the number issued, one may pursue permanent residency while on an L-1 visa and for many L-1s, there is a matching permanent residency category that makes getting a green card relatively quick and simple.

The first requirement for the L-1 is for the applicant to have been continuously employed abroad for one year of the last three for a parent, affiliate, or subsidiary of a US employer. The employer may be a company or other legal entity including a profit, non-profit, religious, or charitable organization. It does not matter if the company is incorporated or not. Any time spent working in the US will not count toward the one year of required employment, though time spent in the US will not be considered to have disrupted the continuity of employment abroad. It is possible to use a combination of part-time employment for affiliated companies under certain circumstances.

Second, the foreign firm and the US firm must have a “qualifying relationship.” The US and the foreign firm must have common majority ownership, or, where there is less than majority ownership, common control by the same person or entity. Ownership by a common group of owners where no owner has control or a majority interest can cause a problem if each individual owner does not own approximately the same amount of both the US and the foreign company. This problem can sometimes be worked around if the owners have set up a voting agreement to ensure that there are not different groups controlling the foreign firm and the US firm.

Third, the applicant must be coming as a manager, executive or specialized knowledge employee. “Specialized knowledge” refers to employees with

  • “a special knowledge of the company’s products and their applications in world markets; or
  • an advanced or proprietary knowledge of the company’s processes or procedures.”

An “executive” is one who directs the management of the company or a major part or function of the organization. Typical executive positions are presidents, vice-presidents and controllers. An executive is expected to have a supervisory role in the company (either over personnel or a function) and would not include people who are primarily performing the specific tasks of production or providing service to customers.

A “manager” directs the organization, a department, or a function of the organization. Like executives, a qualifying manager will not be overseeing the primary performance of a task. Exceptions apply when a manager or executive is coming to open a new office.

Fourth, the applicant must intend to depart the US when his or her stay is over. But the applicant may also pursue permanent residency simultaneously without a negative impact on the ability to keep or extend an L visa. This is because the doctrine of dual intent applies to L-1 visas (just like H-1B visas). This makes the L visa a popular option for multinational firms.