By Attorneys Angela K. Ho and Nancy E. Miller
L visas nonimmigrant visas are available to employers who have offices abroad and wish to bring employees to the US to work or open an affiliated branch office. Like the H-1B work visa, L visas are dual intent—that is, individuals can apply for permanent residence while in L status. There is no annual cap and L visa holder spouses may obtain employment authorization. Additionally, some L visa-holders can apply for permanent residence directly upon entering the US instead of first obtaining labor certification. Tremendously useful, L visas allow executives, managers, and specialized knowledge employees to move between foreign and domestic offices with ease. For that reason, multinational companies who transfer employees from offices abroad to their US-based offices with frequency should consider adding a "blanket" advance approval of L-1 petitions to their immigration repertoire.
The “blanket L” allows a company’s employees from any branch, subsidiary or affiliate abroad to apply directly for L-1A and L-1B classification at a consulate or port of entry instead of through the more laborious process at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). This option allows for greater flexibility and faster processing times for employees as well.
A successful blanket L petition begins with a detailed analysis of a company and its foreign offices’ corporate ownership relationships. A blanket L approval establishes that the requisite qualifying relationship between a company’s branches, subsidiaries, and affiliates exists to the government’s satisfaction. It can then be used to transfer an unlimited number of foreign employees to the US from any office listed in the petition in a much shorter time than that typically required when applying for individual L visas. A blanket L petition is initially valid for up to three years and can be extended indefinitely.
To qualify for blanket L eligibility, the company and each of the entities it wishes to include in the petition must be engaged in commercial trade or services. The US office in particular must have been in business for at least one year prior to applying and the petitioner must have three or more domestic or foreign branches, subsidiaries, or affiliates. Lastly, one of the three must be true: the petitioner’s US subsidiaries and affiliates have combined annual sales of at least $25 million USD; the US work force has at least 1,000 employees; or the petitioner and its qualifying organizations have obtained the approval of petitions for at least ten (10) L-1A/L-1Bs during the previous 12 months. The burden of proof will be on the company and the foreign offices to gather the necessary corporate documents.
Once the blanket L visa is approved, the employer must show that it is the beneficiary of the blanket L and that the proposed L-employee qualifies for the visa. The employee can be classified in L status by either a Consular Officer or a Service Officer at a port of entry (for visa-exempt individuals, such as Canadians). There will be no need to file individual petitions with USCIS and await approval or the dreaded Requests for Evidence (RFE). This makes transfers easier and more responsive to the daily needs of business.
There are two types of employees who can take advantage of the blanket L approval: L-1A managers and executives and L-1B professionals with specialized knowledge. The definitions for these two categories remain the same as those for individual L visa. It is important to note that for blanket L beneficiaries applying for L-1B classification, the eligible employee must have at least the equivalent to a US bachelor’s degree. Furthermore, all eligible employees regardless of classification must have worked at a listed foreign office for longer than 1 year in order to apply. And, if the employee is from an unlisted office, they will need to apply for an individual petition separate from the blanket L approval.
An approved blanket L petition does not guarantee that an individual employee applying for L status at the US consulate or port will be successfully granted L-1A/L-1B classification. Its biggest advantage is that it negates the necessity of separately applying for individual approvals for your L-1A and L-1B employees, thus saving time and redundant costs while offering a more mobile workforce. Consultation with an experienced and knowledgeable immigration lawyer is the best place to start if you are have or are considering creating a multi-national company. Their expert evaluation will enable you to facilitate greater global mobility between your US-based and foreign offices.