I am an employee and my company has offered to sponsor me for an L-1 or H-1B visa. Which visa is the best option?

By September 8, 2020October 1st, 2020H-1B and E-3 Visa, L-1 Visa
Image courtesy of Nguyen Hung Vu on Flickr (labeled for reuse) https://www.flickr.com/photos/vuhung/14565350736

If you are working for a company abroad and you are given the option to transfer to the U.S., questions may arise as to which visa option is best for you. Usually your company will have a particular visa in mind if they are recommending you for a transfer, however you may want to do your own research as well. Below we will discuss the L-1 and H-1B visas and the differences between these visas.

What are the requirements for an L-1A or L-1B visa?

The L-1 visa is appropriate for managers, executives or specialized knowledge workers who have been working for a company outside the U.S. for at least 1 consecutive year out of the past 3 years and are being transferred to a U.S. company that has a qualifying relationship with the company abroad.  You must be coming to the U.S. to hold a managerial, executive or specialized knowledge role with the U.S. company. You will need to prepare copies of your pay statements to show the year of employment at the company abroad and supporting documents to demonstrate that your job abroad and your prospective job in the U.S. meet the definition of either a managerial, executive or specialized knowledge role. However, you do not need to be performing the same job in the U.S. that you held at the company abroad.

If you are a manager or executive, you can qualify for an L-1A visa. This visa can be extended for up to 7 years. If you are a specialized knowledge worker you can qualify for an L-1B visa, which can be extended for up to 5 years. If you want to remain in the U.S. beyond the 5 or 7 year mark, you would need to change to another status, such as E-2 status, or you could apply for a green card if you want to remain in the U.S. permanently. For an L-1B visa holder, the company may choose to sponsor them for a green card through the PERM process where the company tests the labor market to determine if there are any qualified U.S. workers for the role. L-1A visa holders can be sponsored through the PERM process or they may be eligible to apply for the green card under the EB1C category for multinational managers or executives. The L-1 visa is a dual intent visa which means that the visa holder is allowed to have the intent to immigrate to the U.S. and can travel freely while the green card application is pending.

What are the requirements for an H-1B visa?

The H-1B visa is a non-immigrant visa that permits a U.S. company to hire workers in specialty occupations.  This visa category requires that the beneficiary (the foreign worker) have a U.S. Bachelor’s degree (or equivalent), and the job must require a U.S. Bachelor’s degree. The Petitioner (the U.S. company) can employ the worker for up to six years.

Contrary to the L-1, there is no requirement that you work for a company abroad for any length of time. However, there is a cap on the number of H-1B visas that can be issued each year.  85,000 visas are allocated for H-1Bs and 20,000 of those visas are reserved for applicants who have U.S. Master’s degrees. In order to apply for the H-1B, the sponsoring employer will need to enter your application in a lottery. If you are selected in the lottery, the company can submit the H-1B application to U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services to sponsor you for the visa. The lottery is conducted in March and if your application is selected and approved, the earliest that you can start with the U.S. employer is October 1.

Similar to the L-1, the H-1B is a dual intent visa and there is a time limit on how long you can extend the visa (6 years). However, H-1B visa holders who are being sponsored for a green card and have reached a certain stage in the process may be eligible to extend their H-1B status beyond the 6-year limit.

Below we have summarized some of the key differences between the H-1B, L-1A and L-1B visas:

TopicH-1BL-1AL-1B
Does a foreign entity have to exist to apply for the visa?NoYes – In addition, the person being transferred to the U.S. must have been an employee of the foreign entity for at least 1 year out of the past 3 yearsYes – In addition, the person being transferred to the U.S. must have been an employee of the foreign entity for at least 1 year out of the past 3 years
When can I apply for the visa?If you are subject to the H-1B cap, your company will need to apply in the March lottery and the earliest you can start is October of that yearYour company can apply for you at any time during the yearYour company can apply for you at any time during the year
Do I need a Bachelor’s degree to qualify for the visa?Yes, you need either a U.S. Bachelor’s degree or its equivalent to qualify for the visaNo.No, unless you are applying for an L-1B under the Blanket L program. If your L-1B application is under the Blanket L program you will need a Bachelor’s degree or equivalent to qualify
How long can I remain in the US on this visa?6 years, however extensions may be available if you are at a particular stage of the green card process with your employer7 years5 years—if you are promoted to become a manager or executive you can apply for an L-1A to extend another 2 years.
Can my spouse work?No, H-4 spouses are generally not permitted to work except in limited circumstances when the H-1B visa holder is at a certain stage of the green card processYes, your spouse can obtain an L-2 visa and apply for work authorization in the U.S.Yes, your spouse can obtain an L-2 visa and apply for work authorization in the U.S.
Does this visa lead to a green card?Visas do not “lead to” green cards, however if you are eligible for a green card category you can apply while on this visa. Although they may be eligible for other green card categories, H-1B visa holders are often sponsored for green cards by their employers through the PERM process.Visas do not “lead to” green cards, however if you are eligible for a green card category you can apply while on this visa. If you held a managerial or executive role at the company abroad you may be eligible for an EB1C multinational manager or executive green card.Visas do not “lead to” green cards, however if you are eligible for a green card category you can apply while on this visa. Although they may be eligible for other green card categories, L-1B visa holders are often sponsored for green cards by their employers through the PERM process.
Is this a dual intent visa?The H-1B & L visas are dual intent visas so you are able to leave the country while your green card application is pending and reenter the U.S without issue. This is in contrast to visas such as the E-2, which do not allow for immigrant intent.The H-1B & L visas are dual intent visas so you are able to leave the country while your green card application is pending and reenter the U.S without issue. This is in contrast to visas such as the E-2, which do not allow for immigrant intent.The H-1B & L visas are dual intent visas so you are able to leave the country while your green card application is pending and reenter the U.S without issue. This is in contrast to visas such as the E-2, which do not allow for immigrant intent.

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