An L-1A visa is a great visa for an employee or owner of a company abroad who wants to transfer to a U.S. office or open a new office in the United States. Opening a new office permits a foreign employer to transfer an employee to a managerial or executive role at a U.S. company that has a qualifying relationship to the foreign company and has been operating for less than one year. One of the big differences between a regular L-1A visa and an L-1A visa for a new office, is that a new office L-1A visa can only be granted for one year. At the end of that year the U.S. company must demonstrate that it can support a managerial or executive position in order to qualify for a visa extension. A regular L-1A can be granted initially for 3 years.
A company can demonstrate that it supports an executive or managerial position by showing it has hired enough employees to cover all the non-executive or non-managerial duties of the business. While there is no set number of employees that you must have in place by the end of the first year, 5 full-time employees is a good number and some of these staff should have senior roles in the company. An L-1A new office application can be approved with less staff but the lower the number of full-time workers, the more scrutiny the renewal will face. It is also possible to support the renewal by pointing to staff that the L-1A manager or executive manages outside the U.S., but it makes for a stronger extension application to have employees working directly at the U.S. company.
Given the short timeframe for L-1A new office visas and the difficulty of obtaining an extension, companies should carefully consider their strategy in order to maximize their time during that year. A few different effective L-1A new office strategies are discussed below:
Utilize the B-1 Business Visitor Visa
One approach companies can take is to have the applicant or other company executive apply for a B-1 Business Visitor visa and come to the U.S. to engage in permissible business set up activities, such as market research, setting up a business bank account, securing an office lease, negotiating contracts with prospective clients and consulting with business associates who may want to work for the company in the future. A B-1 visa does not permit you to engage in productive labor, but it is possible to take care of some business set up activities on this visa which will save time for the L-1A executive or manager when he or she arrives in the United States. For more information on what activities are permissible on a B-1 Business Visitor visa, click here.
Hire an Employee to Set Up Operations
Another thing companies can do to make the most of their time is hire a U.S. employee to help with business set up to allow the L-1A manager or executive to hit the ground running when he or she arrives. Having an employee on the ground who can take care of the administrative set up will free up the L-1A manager or executive to focus on developing the business and also has the benefit of strengthening the extension application, as hiring U.S. workers is very positive for the application.
Investigate Consulate Wait Times
For most applicants, L-1A petitions must be sent to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) for approval. Canadians are the exception, as they can submit L-1 applications at the border. If the applicant is already in the U.S. and applied for a change of status he or she can begin working right away, however if the applicant is outside of the United States, there will a second step where the applicant makes an appointment to get the L-1A visa stamp put into his or her passport. Appointment wait times can vary significantly depending on the Consulate, so it is a good idea to investigate your U.S. Consulate’s procedures ahead of time, so you can plan your strategy. If the only Consulates available to you have long wait times, you may want to go ahead and hire employees in the U.S. to run things until you are able to get the visa stamp.
Although L-1A extensions for new offices can be heavily scrutinized by the U.S. Government, applicants can greatly increase their chances of getting an approval by planning for the extension as early as possible. Extensions can be granted for two to three year increments and L-1A visa holders can remain in the U.S. on this visa for up to 7 years.
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