Immigration matters / David B. PalinskyAlternatives to the H-1B visa, pt. 2: L-1 "International Transferees"

Published 1 October 2008

The demand for H1-B visas far outstrips its supply; one alternative is the L-1 visa which allows companies to transfer employees to, and allows investors to form start-up operations in, the United States

In my continuing discussion of alternatives to H-1B classification, I now turn to an extraordinarily useful and comparatively easily obtainable visa: the L-1.

An outstanding feature of the L-1 visa is that it not only provides a means for companies with both foreign and domestic (U.S.) operations to transfer employees to the United States, but also allows foreign investors to form and develop “start-up” operations in the United States without satisfying some of the more onerous requirements of other investor’s visa categories.

The L-1 visa permits a foreign firm in a qualifying relationship with a U.S. company to transfer executives, managers, and employees with specialized knowledge to work in the United States. The applicant must have been continuously employed with the qualifying foreign firm for a continuous period of at least one year in the three years preceding admission to the United States.

Some of the benefits of the L-1 visa are that there is no annual cap on the number of L-1 visas issued, there is no mandatory minimum prevailing wage or salary; and that there is a corresponding fast-track Green Card category for executives and managers.

The L-1A visa is used for executives and managers. The L-1B is available for employees with specialized knowledge. Executives direct the management of the company. Managers direct the operation. Specialized knowledge refers to a special knowledge of the company’s products and their applications or advanced or proprietary knowledge of the company’s processes or procedures.

While executives and managers need to have performed executive or managerial functions during the one-year qualifying employment abroad, they do not need to perform the same work in the United States.

Executives and managers are initially admitted to the United States. for up to three years with extensions available up to seven years. Employees with specialized knowledge can be admitted for up to five years.

The L-1 “Investor”
Perhaps the most efficacious use of the L-1 visa is the foreign investor seeking to establish a business presence in the United States.

In the investment scenario, the foreign business entity or its U.S. representatives setup a “new office” in the United States. The U.S. entity then applies to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to transfer the foreign company’s employee to the United States.

Unlike other types of investors’ visas, the L-1 requires neither a minimum investment amount, a bilateral treaty between the United States and the investor’s country of nationality, that the new office is of a certain size and creates a minimum number of jobs, nor that the qualifying organizations are in the same line of business.

In addition to the regular L-1 evidentiary requirements, however, the new office must provide proof that they have secured sufficient physical premises to house the U.S. operations, that the employee has not only been employed in an executive or managerial position abroad but that their employment in the United States will have executive or managerial authority; and that, within one year of approval of the application, the new office will financially support the executive or managerial position.

The L-1 “Green Card”
As is the case with the O-1 visa (see “Alternatives to the H-1B visa, pt. 1: O-1 ‘Extraordinary Ability’,” HS Daily Wire, 23 September 2008), the L-1A visa has a corresponding permanent residency category that facilitates acquisition of a Green Card through L-1A employment.

The Employment-based First Preference category “Multinational Executives and Managers” requires that:

  1. The applicant has been employed in an executive or managerial position with the qualifying organization abroad for at least one of the last three years;
  2. The foreign qualifying organization continues to operate;
  3. The U.S. employer has been in business for more than one year; and,
  4. The applicant will continue to render services that are executive or managerial in nature.

These requirements are nearly identical to those for initial issuance of the L-1A visa. Although securing a Green Card during L-1A employment sometimes consists of little more that submitting properly compiled documentation, prudence dictates careful strategic planning from the initial L-1 filing through the successful culmination of the Green Card process.

David Palinsky, an attorney, specializes in cases involving employment-based immigration, especially immigrant (permanent) and nonimmigrant (temporary) visas for the homeland security, hi-tech, and services sectors. You may contact Palinsky directly at; for general information, please e-mail a description of your situation to Readers may send Palinsky questions on topics and issues which are of interest to them and their businesses, and he will post some of these questions, and his answers to them, in the column. Nothing contained herein should be construed as legal advice. Should you desire specific legal advice, please contact the Law Office of David B. Palinsky directly.