For business owners and entrepreneurs interested in expanding their business in the U.S. market, one important question is which U.S. visa is right for them. If available, the E-2 visa is an excellent option for those seeking to run their own business in the U.S. However, the E-2 visa is based on international treaties with other countries, thus the visa is only available to foreign nationals who are citizens of treaty countries. For entrepreneurs who own their own company and wish to open an office in the United States, the L-1 visa may be a good option.
What is the L Visa?
The L nonimmigrant classification permits a U.S. employer to transfer an executive, manager or specialized knowledge employee from one of its affiliated foreign offices to one of its offices in the United States. The U.S. company must have a qualifying relationship with the company abroad, such as a parent, subsidiary, affiliate or branch office relationship. The L visa also enables a foreign company to send an executive, manager or employee with specialized knowledge to the United States for the purpose of establishing a new U.S. office. The L1 Visa is divided into two types of classifications: the L-1A visa Intracompany Transferee based on an executive or managerial role, and the L-1B Intracompany Transferee based on specialized knowledge. As an entrepreneur or business owner, the L-1A category for managers or executives is usually the most applicable category.
The L-1 Visa requirements
In order to qualify for the L-1 visa, the employer sponsoring the petition must:
-Have a qualifying relationship with a foreign company (parent company, branch, subsidiary, or affiliate, collectively referred to as qualifying organizations); and
-Currently be, or will be, doing business as an employer in the United States and in at least one other country for the duration of the beneficiary’s stay in the United States as an L-1.
For both the L-1A and L-1B visas, the beneficiary (i.e. the employee seeking the transfer) must have been working for a qualifying organization abroad for one continuous year within the three years immediately proceeding his or her admission into the U.S.
A company is considered to have a qualifying relationship sufficient to sponsor an L-1 visa when the company is either a parent, branch, affiliate or subsidiary of a foreign firm operating abroad. This means that it is not always necessary to incorporate a U.S. company to qualify for the L-1 visa, as a foreign company may send employees to work at a branch office located in the U.S. For more information on what constitutes a qualifying relationship, please click here.
L-1A for Business Owners
If the beneficiary seeking to apply for the L-1A visa is also the owner or a major stockholder of the company, the petition must include evidence that the beneficiary’s services are to be used for a temporary period, and that the beneficiary will be transferred back to the company abroad.
This evidence is typically supplied in the form of a letter from the company’s manager in their home country (as the parent company must remain in operation during the entrepreneur’s temporary assignment). The letter declares the length of the assignment and the company’s expectation that the employee will be reassigned in the future. While the letter may seem to indicate that the company and/or the employee intended that the work assignment be a temporary one, this requirement should not affect the employee’s ability to adjust status under the dual intent doctrine if the employee’s plans change and they ultimately decide to remain in the United States.
Timing and Costs
The L-1A visa can be extended for a maximum period of 7 years, while an L-1B visa can be extended for a maximum period of 5 years. For managers, executives and specialized knowledge workers transferring to an established company in the U.S., the L-1 visa will be granted for an initial period of 3 years and then can be extended in 2 year increments. However, executives and managers who are being transferred to start a new office in the U.S. will only be granted an L visa for an initial period of 1 year. As noted above, it is quite difficult to get an extension after one year if your company has not experienced significant growth and hired several employees during its first year of operations.
L visas are all processed by filing a petition with U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services and after the approval notice is obtained, the employee must get a visa in his/her own country. The U.S. employer must pay filing fees to USCIS when filing the L-1 petition and the employee will need to pay a visa fee when applying at the Consulate.
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