An L-1 visa is a great option when a foreign company wants to transfer an employee working for abroad to a U.S. office. These are the four main requirements to obtain L-1 visa:
- The U.S. employer must have a qualifying relationship with a foreign company
- The company must be/ or will be doing business in the U.S. and at least one foreign country for the duration of employee’s stay in the U.S.
- The employee being transferred must have been working for the foreign company for one continuous year out of the preceding three years in a managerial, executive or specialized knowledge role.
- The employee will be working as a manager, executive, or specialized worker at the U.S. company
With limited exceptions for Canadians and L-1 blanket petitions, most L-1 petitions must be submitted to U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services for approval. If the applicant is in the U.S. in a valid status that allows for a change of status, the petition can be filed asking to change the employee’s status to L-1. If the applicant is outside the U.S. (or inside the U.S. but does not want to do a change of status), the petition can be filed asking that a Consulate be notified once the petition is approved. The applicant would then attend an appointment at the Consulate to get the L-1 visa stamp. Even if the applicant initially does a change of status, once they leave the U.S., they will have to go to a Consulate to get an L-1 visa stamp in order to re-enter the U.S.
What can I expect at the L-1 interview?
By the time you attend the L-1 interview, the consular officer should have already confirmed the approval of the underlying petition through the Petition Information Management System (PIMS). The approval must be in this system in order for the officer to issue the visa. You can also bring the L-1 approval notice to the interview, however without the approval in PIMS, the officer will not issue the visa. To make sure the approval is in PIMS, the employer must have sent a duplicate copy of the petition to the Kentucky Consular Center when filing the L-1.
The USCIS approval of the L-1 petition is considered sufficient proof that the visa requirements have been met. During the interview the consular officer’s role is to confirm the petition approval in the Petition Information Management System (PIMS), confirm that the facts in the petition are accurate and ensure that you are eligible for the visa. Questions will usually revolve around the job that you held abroad and the job you will hold in the U.S. If you have any red flags in your immigration history such as unlawful presence, past visa denials or criminal violations, the officer may ask about those issues to ensure that you are eligible for a visa.
Here are some other things to consider as you prepare for the L-1 interview:
Review Your Petition. Your employer should provide you with a copy of the L-1 petition that was submitted to USCIS (or with certain sections of the petition). You should review the petition to ensure you are familiar with the details of the job offer in the U.S. and also be prepared to discuss the job you previously held abroad. If you are a high-level executive or manager, the officer may also ask questions about the U.S. and foreign companies. The purpose of these questions is to assess your credibility and confirm that the information you are providing is consistent with what was in the petition that was submitted to USCIS.
Know Your DS-160 Application. You should review your DS-160 application before the interview and pay particular attention to any questions on the application where they asked you a “yes” or “no” question or to “explain”. For example, (Have you ever been arrested or convicted for any offense or crime? If yes, explain.) If you answered any of the security questions “yes” these areas may be a focus of the interview. If you have any previous issues with criminal history or immigration violations you should discuss that with your employer and an immigration attorney to ensure that this will not create any admissibility issues and work with them to prepare for how you will answer these questions. If you have a criminal history you will also likely need to provide supporting documents (arrest records, disposition documents, etc.) to help the officer assess your case.
Answer Questions Briefly. Many applicants ramble on when asked a question by an examiner and provide detailed explanations to simple questions. If a question is a yes/no question, just answer yes or no and if the examiner wants more detail they will ask for it. Sometimes applicants speak and speak and reveal information that may ultimately lead more questions or issues with the visa approval.
Answer Questions Honestly. It is imperative that a visa applicant answers all questions honestly. If you do not remember something, just say that you do not remember. If a visa is denied because of lack of documentation, you can always apply again in the future. If a visa is denied because an officer thinks you lied, you will have a tough time getting a visa in the future.
Listen to the Question. While many are nervous, you should focus on the question and provide an answer to the question being asked. If you go off on a tangent or do not answer the specific question, the officer may think you have something to hide and are avoiding the question.
Review the Consulate website and bring the requested documents. Consulates each have their own procedures, so it is important to check the Consulate website where you are having your interview to determine what documents to bring. Your immigration attorney can also assist with preparing a list of the documents you will need. You should also review the Consulate website to determine what security procedures they have and what you are and are not allowed to bring into the Consulate. For example, many Consulates will not allow large bags and will not provide you with a place to store items while you attend your interview. It is especially important to check the Consulate procedures given that many Consulates have new safety procedures in place due to the impact of COVID-19.
Dress the part and be courteous. You should wear business attire to your interview as a first impression cannot be taken back. Also, under no circumstances should you argue or be disrespectful to the officer. Even if the officer appears aggressive in their questioning, you should always be respectful (even if they are not). They have an enormous amount of power in visa adjudication situations.
Relax. The examiner is asking questions to ensure the information in the petition is accurate and that you are admissible to the U.S. and if you used a lawyer you likely have a good submission. Relax and do not stress about this interview. Often the interviews last 5 minutes and in many cases the examiner just asks 3 or 4 questions. That being said, the interview can be longer if the examiner has doubts about the application.
When USCIS approves the L-1 petition, they may approve the initial petition for 3 years for established companies. If it is a new office, USCIS can approve the petition for one year. The L-1A visa can be extended in increments of two years for a maximum period of 7 years, while an L-1B visa can be extended in increments of two years for a maximum period of 5 years.
The petitioner must file a duplicate copy of the petition with USCIS so that the approval is sent to the Consulate where the employee will get the L-1 visa. The amount of time an L-1 visa can be granted for varies by country and depends on the agreement between the applicant’s country and the United States (the legal term is “reciprocity”). For example, Brazil has a reciprocity period of 2 years for L visas, meaning that even though the USCIS approval may be for 3 years, the employee’s visa will only be granted for 2 years. When the 2-year visa expires, the employee can take the approval notice to the Consulate to get a new visa based on the prior approval.
It is important to keep in mind that the length of L-1 visa validity governs the time period that you have to enter the country. The L visa should include an annotation showing the date the L-1 approval notice expires and when the applicant enters the country, they should be granted status through the end date of the approval notice.
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