The L-1 visa category is a U.S non-immigrant visa within the U.S work visas. It allows foreign company employees to transfer from their home country where the company is located to a parent, affiliate, branch, or subsidiary of that company in the U.S. There they are allowed to work; however, the positions they can take are limited. Based on these job positions that the L-1 visa category allows, there are two sub-categories of visas:
- L-1A visa which gives its holders the right to transfer to the U.S and work as managers or executives
- L-1B visa which gives its holders the right to transfer to the U.S and work in a specialized knowledge position
This article will go through the L-1B visa, what it is, its requirements, the application process, as well as other details pertaining to it.
What is the L-1B Visa?
The L-1B visa is directed towards those individuals who have specialized knowledge. What does specialized knowledge mean though? The U.S immigration services have specific guidelines over what this knowledge is.
Specialized knowledge professionals are those who are key employees within a company. They possess extraordinary and inimitable knowledge over the company’s products or services. This knowledge is difficult to transfer to another person and would take time as well as resources. The person with the specialized knowledge has gained this knowledge through years of experience within the company and so without them, the company’s products or services would not be of the same quality.
Immigration services do not specify how many people can be such key employees within a company, but the company itself must be able to distinguish between employees who are vital to the company function and those who serve to only produce the products or services. Therefore, the company can claim many employees are key to the company and ask for transfers to the U.S; however, they must prove that the knowledge that the person has cannot be found in other employees or outside workers.
There are many industries that can claim specialized knowledge personnel to be eligible for L-1B visa transfers, but examples include surgeons and physicians in hospitals, engineers, lawyers, or teachers and professors. The L-1B visa is thus given to people whose company can prove that they are indispensable to company functions.
What are the L-1B Visa Requirements?
The visa requirements for the L-1B visa are as follows:
- The company must have an affiliate, parent, subsidiary or branch in the U.S
- The applicant must have worked in the company in their home country for at least 1 year in the past 3 years
- The applicant must have specialized knowledge that is indispensable to company functions regarding its products, services, or management
- The applicant must have an offer from the company to transfer to the U.S affiliated company
If you and the company you work for meet these requirements, then you are eligible to start the L-1B visa process.
How to apply for the L-1B Visa?
To apply for the L-1B visa, the company that is transferring the employee as well as the employee must follow certain steps. The application process is lengthy and requires attention to detail so that no document or step can be overlooked.
Filing Form I-129
The Form I-129, Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker is the first step that all employers need to take if they want their employee to be eligible for work in the U.S. This holds for all types of U.S work visas, not just the L-1B visa. This form must be filed by the employer and not the employee. For the L-1B visa, two ways exist to file this form:
- Individual Petitions
If the company has identified one person with specialized knowledge that they need to transfer to the U.S to increase the quality of operations there, then they file an individual L-1B petition. This can be done by filing Form I-129 and the L Supplement to the U.S Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). USCIS must approve the petition for the applicant to be able to complete the next steps. When USCIS approves the individual petition, the employer gets a Form I-797 as proof.
- L-1 Blanket Petitions
If the company has identified more than one key personnel with specialized knowledge that they want to transfer to the U.S, or believe that in the next three years they will want to send more employees to U.S affiliates, the best way to do this and avoid individual petition hassles is to file a blanket petition. The blanket petition application includes filing Form I-129S, Nonimmigrant Petition Based on L-1 Blanket Petition to USCIS. When the immigration services approve this petition, the employer gets Form I-797 as proof.
The blanket petition is valid for 3 years and can be extended as many times as the company needs to. However, they must apply for an extension and if they fail to do so, then they will not be allowed to file another blanket petition for another 3 years. They will only be allowed to file individual petitions.
So the employer must choose the method through which they want to file the I-129 petitions, but the rest of the steps are the same for both individual and blanket petitions.
Pay the fees for the employer
To make the applicants eligible for the L-1B visa, employers must pay certain fees, such as:
- Form I-129 filing fee – $460
- Employers with 25 or less full time employees in the U.S must pay the American Competitiveness and Workforce Improvement Act of 1998 (ACWIA) – $750
- Fraud Prevention and Detection Fee – $500
- Employers with 50 or more employees in the U.S on an H-1B or L-1 visa – $4,000
- Premium processing from USCIS – $1,225
File Form DS-160
Form DS-160 is required for most U.S work visas, so after the employer completes their duty of filing the petition and paying the fees, the applicant or employee must begin their application process. Form DS-160 is filled online and requires information regarding the reasons why the employee wants to go the U.S and whether they fulfill the requirements. After you complete this form, you will get a confirmation page and code which you must have for later on the application process.
Pay the application fee
As with the other L-1 category visa, the fee for the L-1B visa is $190. You must pay this fee and any other applicable fees which are based on the country you are from and the U.S Embassy you are applying to, such as reciprocity fees.
Schedule your interview
The U.S Embassy requires all those who are over 13 and under 79 years old to undergo a visa interview. You must schedule your visa interview as early as possible, since the U.S Embassy might have a high workload and you could end up waiting very long for your appointment. When you schedule the interview, you will get the visa appointment letters which you need to save for later.
Submit your documents
You must have a file with the following documents to submit for your application to be considered:
- A valid passport for an additional 6 months after your visa ends
- A photograph meeting the USA Visa Photography Requirements
- The DS-160 confirmation page and code
- The receipts that you have paid all fees
- The visa interview appointment letter
- For individual petitions:
- Form I-129 and one copy
- Form I-797
- For blanket petitions
- Form I-129S and two copies
- Three copies of Form I-797
- Letter from employer confirming your transfer and your job description
- Proof that you have worked with the employer for at least 1 year in the past 3 years
- Proof that you have specialized knowledge as per the definition of U.S immigration services
- Letters from previous employers and contact information for your supervisors
- Contact information from 2 coworkers from your current and previous job positions
- Photographs of the inside and outside of your place of work
- Your CV or resume
Attend your interview
The last step in the application process is for you to attend your visa interview. During the interview, you will be asked different questions. The official conducting it will ask you L-1B visa interview questions regarding your place of work, your specialized knowledge, and why your knowledge is so important to the company. It is best to answer questions as fully as possible to avoid any incomplete information. After the interview, you will have to wait for the processing time and if you are approved, send your passport in for stamping.
What is the processing time for the L-1B visa?
The L-1B visa processing time is similar to the other L-1 visa category. This means that after your employer files the petition and you apply, it will take approximately 3 to 4 months for USCIS and the U.S Embassy to get back to you with a response. Their response will be on whether you got the L-1B visa or not.
If the employer applies to an individual petition, the processing time will be slightly longer than if the employer applied for the blanket petition. In addition, since premium processing is available for the L-1B visa, the employer can pay the fee for it and have the visa processed for only 1 to 3 weeks.
How long is the L-1B visa valid?
The L-1B visa validity dates will be printed on the Form I-129 and the approved Form I-797. They will also be in your Form I-94 which you will get when you first enter the U.S. The initial period of validity will be 3 years for this visa. So you as a L-1B visa holder will be allowed to stay 3 years in the U.S working in a specialized knowledge position.
In case you show professionalism and do not breach your work contract or visa rules, your employer might want to extend your visa. The employer can file for an extension only once, and the period of validity will go on for another 2 years for your L-1B visa. This means that in total, the maximum validity period for this visa is 5 years. After that, you will want to look into more permanent residence options if you decide you want to stay in the U.S.
However, if the specialized knowledge person can obtain an offer from the company to take on a managerial or executive position within that firm, they can transfer their L-1B visa to an L-1A visa, which has a validity of 7 years. The application for the transfer should be made at least half a year before the employee reaches their 5-year maximum validity for the L-1B visa.
Can I apply for a Green Card with an L-1B visa?
The L-1B visa belongs to the L-1 visa category, which means that it is a dual intent visa. A dual intent visa states that it does not require its holder to go back to their home country once their duties are completed. In the case of the L-1B visa, once your work contract has expired, you are not required to go back to your home country.
You are allowed to seek permanent immigration, so file from L-1B visa to Green Card. An L-1B visa holder is eligible to apply for the employment based green card. In addition, during the application process, the applicant is not required to prove strong ties to home, or express intent to return to their home country. If you state that you plan on applying for a Green Card, your application will not be negatively affected.
Can I bring dependents with an L-1B visa?
With an L-1B visa you are allowed to have your dependents accompany you when you go to the U.S to work. Dependents who qualify are your spouse and any unmarried children under 21 years old. Dependents need to apply for an be granted the L-2 visa to be eligible to enter the U.S. Without the L-2 visa, they are not allowed entry into the country. The L-2 visa is quite convenient as it does not only allow dependents to study in the U.S, but also find employment. To qualify for getting a job in the U.S with an L-2 visa, dependents must apply for the Employment Authorization Document (EAD).