Foreign companies seeking to send their employees to the United States to work at an existing related office or to open up a new office will find the L-1 intra-company transferee nonimmigrant visa to be a useful tool. The following is a general discussion about the L visa category.

To qualify for an L-1 visa, several key requirements pertaining to the petitioner (the U.S. office related to the foreign company) and the beneficiary (L-1 worker) must be met. First, the foreign company must be related to the U.S. petitioner in a specific way, i.e., as the parent, subsidiary, affiliate, or branch office. Throughout the L-1 visa holder’s stay in the United States, the foreign company must be actively engaged in business operations.

Second, the L-1 worker must have worked for the foreign company for at least one continuous year within the preceding three years in an executive, managerial, or “specialized knowledge” capacity, and who is being transferred temporarily to the United States to perform similar work for a qualifying related, business entity. The employee must also provide evidence of his qualifications to perform the position’s duties.

The Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services (BCIS) (formerly the Immigration and Naturalization Service) may admit an L-1 worker to the United States for the period of time required by the employer, up to a maximum initial stay of three years. The total period of stay is seven years for managers and executives, and five years for employees possessing specialized knowledge. Properly fitting individuals into these classifications depends on previous and current responsibilities, staffing level of U.S. office, and overall purpose of the organization.

L-1 workers transferring to the United States for the purpose of opening a new office (i.e., existing for less than one year), are only granted one year in the initial period of stay. To extend stay in L-1 status after the initial one-year period, additional evidence about the new U.S. office must be offered in regards to the increase of cash flow, business operations, presence of significant customers or clientele, staffing changes, and justifiable need for a managerial or executive employee.

Unlike most other nonimmigrant visa categories, L-1 visa holders are permitted to possess the “dual intent” of working on a temporary nonimmigrant visa and of intending to immigrate permanently to the United States. In fact, certain qualified L-1 managers and executives may be sponsored directly by the U.S. company for permanent residency as “priority workers” under the employment-based first preference category (EB-1).

Blanket L-1 petitions are also available for larger and more established petitioning U.S. companies. Among the advantages of this designation, beneficiaries of blanket L-1 visas need not obtain prior approval by BCIS; they may apply directly at their respective U.S. consulate offices. To qualify as a blanket L-1 petitioner, the company must meet certain requirements, including having obtained approval of at least ten prior L visas during the previous 12 months, a combined annual sales of at least $25 million, or a U.S. work force of at least 1,000 employees.

U.S. companies desiring expedited adjudication of their L-1 visa petitions can opt for “premium processing.” For an additional $1000 fee to the BCIS, the agency will process the L-1 petition within 15 days.

Another advantage of the L visa category is that the spouse and children (under 21 years of age) of an L-1 beneficiary may accompany that family member on L-2 visas. As of January 2002, L-2 spouses (not children) are permitted to apply for work authorization.

Because L visas entail complex regulations and require substantial supporting documentation, persons seeking such visas should consult a knowledgeable and experienced immigration attorney.