You have an amazing employee working for your sister or parent company in another country. You really want to get that employee here in the U.S. How can you make that happen? The answer — the L-1 visa.

The L-1 visa is a temporary, non-immigrant visa that provides the vehicle for companies (not to exclude non-profit, religious and charitable organizations) to relocate qualified foreign employees to its U.S. subsidiary or parent company. The qualified employee has to have worked for a subsidiary, parent, affiliate or branch office of the company for at least one continuous year out of the last three years. The U.S. company must be a parent company, child company or sister company to the foreign company.

Using the L-1 visa, companies may transfer highly proficient managers or executives to the United States. The L-1 visa is particularly useful for small or start-up overseas companies seeking to expand their business and services to the U.S., because it allows for the employment of a manager or executive with the institutional knowledge of the business and its operations. L-1 visas are regularly used by larger, often multinational companies, as well. Even the largest of companies face the situation in which a foreign manager or executive would benefit the U.S. branch, subsidiary or affiliate. The L-1 visa provides the means by which those qualified employees can be legally transferred. Whatever the case may be, the L-1 visa is specifically designed to facilitate the needs of intra-company transfers by companies.

There are two different L-1 visa classifications: L1-A and L-1B.  L-1A visas are used for intra-company transfers of executive or management level employees. The L-1A visa holder must have been employed by the foreign company in an executive or management capacity continuously for at least one out of the previous three years.  The L-1A visa also allows a company that does not currently have a U.S. office to send a qualified executive or manager to the United States to establish one. L-1A visas are granted for periods of one year for a new U.S. company or three years for a U.S. company that has been in existence for more than one year at the time of the visa was granted. Extensions are available in two-year increments for a maximum of seven years.

L1-B visas are used for intra-company transfers of professional employees with specialized knowledge.  Specialized knowledge, for example, can include a professional employee who has proprietary or trade secret knowledge about a company’s product who is seeking entry into the U.S. to impart his knowledge to the new U.S. employees.  L-1B visas are initially issued for three years with one two-year extension. The maximum stay under an L-1B visa is five years.

Whether seeking an L-1A or L-1B visa, the U.S. company and foreign company must be related in a specific way such through a parent/subsidiary relationship or through an affiliated employer.

For the larger, multinational companies that are frequent L-1 visa petitioners, the USCIS has established the L-1 Blanket Visa program. Under this program, the approved company need only receive one approval from the USCIS to transfer a certain number managerial, executive and professional employees. L-1 Blanket Visa holders must leave the United States for minimum of one year upon completion of the maximum period under their visa, and they must work for foreign operation of the U.S. Company before becoming eligible to reapply for an L-1 visa.

If the alien is coming to the U.S. for the purpose of conferring with officials, attending meetings and conferences, and participating in training, such activities are not considered a regular and systematic basis. The alien, therefore, should apply for business visa in lieu of an L-1. Spouses of L-1 visa holders may apply for work authorization with USCIS to work in U.S. without restriction. One of the benefits of the L1 visa, as opposed to many other non-immigrant visas, is that it is a “dual intent” visa. Dual intent allows the L-1 visa holder to apply for a green card and become a permanent resident without jeopardizing his/her L-1 visa status or their visa applications from a U.S. consular office abroad.

Establishing the minimum requirements for an L-1 visa requires the production of specific evidence by the petitioning U.S. entity.  Failure to provide the specific evidence, including evidence of a qualifying relationship between the U.S. and foreign entities, evidence that the beneficiary has worked in a qualifying capacity for the minimum period of time, and, where necessary, evidence of a qualifying U.S. workplace will result in a denial of the L-1 visa.  To avoid unnecessary denial of the L-1 visa, petitioners and beneficiaries (the U.S. company and the employee seeking transfer) should work together with immigration counsel to simplify the process and get the qualified foreign worker to the U.S. expeditiously.