Differences and similarities between the H1B visa and the L1 visa

It’s no secret that applying for a Visa – and especially American work visas – is a bureaucratic roller coaster, but still, thousands of people brave the process every year in hopes of a brighter future.

As two of the most popular US Work Visas, the L1 visa and H1B visa receive hundreds of thousands of applicants every year.

This article will detail the difference between the L1 vs H1B Visa to try and make it easier to decide which type of visa you are best suited for.

Difference Between the L1 vs H1B Visa

The main difference between the H1B and L1 visa is:

  • You can apply for an H1B Visa if you will work for an American employer and American-based company.
  • You can apply for an L1 Visa if you will work for a multinational company, in a lead or key position. In other words, you will transfer to the US branch of an overseas company in which you have been employed previously.

See a side-by-side comparison between the H1B and L1 visas:

 L1 VisaH1B Visa
Who can apply?A Manager or Executive or Specialized Knowledge Professional (such as a Lawyer, Doctor, Engineer, etc).Individuals in “Specialty Occupations”, such as IT Specialist, Architects, Accountants, Doctors, Lawyers, etc.
Employment requirementsYou must be transferring to the US from an overseas branch office (parent or subsidiary) of the US company.


This means you can receive your salary either from an overseas company or from the US company.

You have to fill an open position in a US company that could not have been filled by an American citizen, and you must be well qualified for the job.


You will receive your salary from a US company.

Previous work qualificationsYou must have worked (in one of the qualifying positions) in the overseas branch of the company you are transferring to for at least one year in the last three years.You do not necessarily need to have previous work experience in the position you are applying for.
Academic qualificationsThere are no required academic qualifications to get an L1 Visa.You must have at least a Bachelor Degree or equivalent or have advanced training or vocational skills to qualify for the H1B Visa.
Approval from the US Department of Labor (Proving there were no American citizens suited for the job)You do not need approval from the US Department of Labor to get the L1 Visa.


In other words, your employer does not need to prove to the DOL that there were no American citizens qualified for the job.

Before you receive the H1B Visa, your employer has to prove that they had an open application and that there were no qualified workers to fill the position in the States.


Your employer does this by applying for Approval from the US Department of Labour (DOL). Afterwards, the employer can apply for your H1B Visa to the USCIS.

Change of employerL1 Visa holders are not allowed to switch employers. You can change to a new visa status, however, such as to an H1B visa.H1B Visa holders can change employers and transfer companies. The new employer (aka sponsor) has to file a new visa petition to the USCIS.
Family membersWith an L1 Visa, you can bring your spouse and unmarried children under 21 years old to live with you in the US while you work.


Your family members have to get an L2 visa.

They can study and apply for an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) so they are allowed to work.

With an H1B Visa, you can also bring your spouse and unmarried children under the age of 21 with you to the US.


Your family members have to get an H4 Visa.

They can study and live in the US, but if they want to work they have to apply for an Employment Authorization Document (EAD).

Salary requirementsThere are no exact salary requirements for the L1 Visa, other than it must not be low.H1B Visa holders have to receive the same salary as other workers in that profession or the average salary for that position in the US.
Duration of the visaThe Visa is issued in accordance with your work contract.The H1B visa is initially valid for 3 years but can extend for another 3 years.
Visa extensions You can extend an L1 Visa for a maximum of 7 years if employed as a Manager or Executive or a maximum of 5 years if working as Specialized Knowledge staff.


After the visa expires, you can apply to switch to another immigration route.

You can extend an H1B Visa for a maximum of 6 years.


After the Visa expires, you can apply for an Employment-Based Green Card, as long as you have a qualifying job.

Green CardYes, with an L1 Visa, you can eventually get a US Green Card, by applying for adjustment of residency status with the USCIS.


This means you can ask your employer in the US to sponsor you for a PERM Certificate (Permanent Labor).

With an H1B you can also apply for a Green Card after the visa expires.


Your employer has to sponsor you for a PERM Certificate.

Quota (Cap)There is no annual quota or cap of how many L1 Visas are issued.There is an annual Quota/Cap of 85,000 H1B Visas.


65,000 of them go to overseas specialized workers, and another 20,000 go to international graduates with advanced degrees from US educational institutions.

H1B Visa in a Nutshell

Also known as the “Person in Specialty Occupation Visa”, you can apply for the H1B Visa if you received a job offer in a US company, and you fulfil the following requirements:

  • You have at least a 4-Year Bachelor degree or higher (Masters degree, PhD)
  • You have advanced training or vocational skills
  • You qualify to work in a research and development project for the US Department of Defense or another government position.
  • You are not occupying the position of a qualified worker who is already in the US

Qualifying fields of employment for the H1B Visa include:

  • IT.
  • Architecture.
  • Engineering.
  • Accounting.
  • Mathematics.
  • Science.
  • Medicine.

L1 Visa in a Nutshell

The L1 Visa (Work Visa for Intracompany Transferees), as the name suggests, is a type of visa issued to workers transferring to the US branch of a company. The company in the US could be a subsidiary of an overseas company, or it could be the parent office/branch.

The employee who is transferring must be in a high-standing position in the company, such as a manager and executive, or a key member of the company. As such, the two types of L1 Visas are:

  • L1A Visa – Manager and Executive positions.
  • L1B Visa – Specialized Knowledge staff.

L1A Visa (Manager position) requirements:

  • You must be in charge of the company or a division of the company.
  • You must have the authority to hire new employees, or at least recommend people for hire.
  • You must be in a position over the supervisors and lower-level employees of the organization.

L1A Visa (Executive position) requirements:

  • You must be authorized to enforce policy rules and regulations for the company
  • You must be supervised only by the stakeholders or a board of directors.
  • Apart from stakeholders or a board of directors, you have the power to make decisions in regards to the company.

L1B Visa (Specialized Knowledge staff) requirements

Although it is a more vague term, Specialized Knowledge staff eligible for an L1B Visa includes essential employees in a company who:

  • Have distinctive and unique knowledge of the company’s services, products, management, etc.
  • Cannot be easily replaced by someone who has a similar work experience.

Qualifying positions include doctors and surgeons in a hospital, engineers, lawyers, professors, etc.

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