L-1 visas are available for employees who are being transferred to the U.S. by a foreign company that has a qualifying relationship with the U.S. company. L-1A visas are available for managerial or executive employees and L-1B visas are available for employees with specialized knowledge. The government defines specialized knowledge as “special knowledge possessed by an individual of the petitioning organization’s product, service, research, equipment, techniques, management, or other interests and its application in international markets, or an advanced level of knowledge or expertise in the organization’s processes and procedures.”
A government memo from 2015 provided some additional guidance on the definitions of specialized and advanced knowledge. It explains that specialized knowledge “is knowledge of the petitioning organization’s product, service, research, equipment, techniques, management, or other interests and its application in international markets that is distinct or uncommon in comparison to that generally found in the particular industry.”
Advanced knowledge is described as “knowledge of or expertise in the petitioning organization’s specific processes and procedures that is not commonly found in the relevant industry and is greatly developed or further along in progress, complexity and understanding than that generally found within the employer.”
Generally, if an applicant is an industry professional with an established reputation in their field cultivated over many years, they will have easier time showing that their knowledge is distinct and noteworthy compared to others in the industry. Additionally, if an applicant has been with a company for a long period of time and has specialized knowledge of the company’s product or services, they may more easily qualify for an L-1B visa. However, employees that are newer to their industry may still be able to qualify as an employee with specialized or advanced knowledge in some of the following situations:
- Taking an instrumental role in a start-up in its formative years: An employee who has been working for a company since its start-up phase and helped establish some of the fundamental building blocks for the company’s operations may be able to qualify for an L-1B early in his or her career by showing advanced knowledge of the company’s processes and procedures. This is especially the case if the company has grown quickly and hired a significant amount of people since its formation, as the employee’s knowledge could be favorably compared against others in the company,
- Originating a new department, process or procedure within the company: An employee who has originated a new department for a company or designed particularly impactful processes or procedures may qualify for an L-1B. To prove they qualify, the employer could demonstrate that since the employee originated the process or procedure, he or she has a distinct and complex understanding of it that surpasses the understanding of others in the company and since it was developed for this specific company, the knowledge is not generally found in the relevant industry. If the new process or procedure had a positive financial impact for the company or increased its competitiveness in the market, this is also very helpful, as is demonstrating that it would be difficult to transfer the knowledge to another employee without a significant investment of time and money.
Determining whether an employee has specialized or advanced knowledge is a very fact-intensive inquiry and it is important to work with a qualified immigration attorney to achieve the best result.
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