Introduction to the L1 Visa

There is a special visa available for companies that wish to expand operations into the United States by opening a branch, a warehouse or an office. This visa, known as the L1 visa, is one of the most popular — especially since it can lead to permanent residency — and is relatively easy to obtain with the right documentation and presentation. The requirements are as follows:

I. Company Requirements

The foreign company must have been in operation for at least one year and must remain in operation at all times after the opening of the US division;

A qualifying organization may include a branch of the same employer, or a parent, subsidiary, or affiliate;

New offices must submit additional evidence, including a business plan, and must show progress on start-up activities after one year.

The annual sales volume or gross revenues of the foreign company ideally should exceed $250,000 (relative to the exchange rate of local currency and the cost of doing business in the subject foreign country);

Ideally, the foreign company should employ at least 3 individuals;

One must be able to demonstrate that the foreign company is successful, in good standing, financially solid, that expansion into the United States will not negatively affect its foreign operations, and that the expansion will eventually create jobs for US workers.

II. Categories of Workers Eligible to be Transferred to US Operation

Owners – Must be either the sole owner or a majority shareholder.

Executives – Includes the President, Vice-President, Secretary, or Treasurer of the company

Professional Managers – Should be General Managers, Sales Managers, Production Managers, etc. (First-line supervisors generally do not qualify).

Specialized Knowledge Workers – Must have unique and special knowledge specific to the product or the company, not generally acquirable in the open labor market.

III. Personal Requirements

The visa applicant must have worked for the foreign company for at least 1 out of the last 3 years; and

The visa applicant’s presence in the United States is essential to the success and the smooth operation of the US company.

The initial duration of the visa is for 1 year for a new office, or 3 years for transfer to an established subsidiary, with possible extensions of additional 2 years, to a maximum of 7 years for managers and executives, and 5 years for specialized knowledge workers. An applicant who has resided in the US for the maximum visa period must reside abroad for a full year before being readmitted in the same status.

IV. Processing Time, Government Fees

Government processing is rapid compared to other business visa categories — 15 days or less with premium processing — because there is no need to file either an Application for Labor Certification or a Labor Condition Application. And government filing fees are relatively low, compares with other visa — just $1,820.00 USD including premium processing.

Processing for citizens of CANADA is completed on a same-day basis at most CANADA-US ports of entry or at the US “pre-flight clearance” office located at most international airports in CANADA.

After US entity exists for one year, qualifying managers and executives are eligible to apply for permanent residence without testing the job market through the labor certification process.

V. Business Expansion Visa (L-1A) v. Treaty Investor (E-2)

It is often the case that one may qualify for either the Treaty Investor (E-2) or Business Expansion (L-1A) visa. The question then arises as to which of the two visas is the most advantageous. Following is our analysis of this question:

The Business Expansion visa has the following distinct advantages:

One does not have to invest a specific amount of cash in advance of visa approval;

Once the case is presented, one can have approval in as little as 7 – 10 days;

Adjudication of the case takes place in the US, rather than at the relevant American Embassy or Consulate (which can be quite tough on investor cases);

The spouse of the principal gets a general work permit during the life of the visa;

Eligibility for Priority Permanent Residency in the US after 1 year.

By contrast, the Treaty Investor (E2) visa requires the investment of a “substantial” amount of money, in advance of approval, and usually requires adjudication at a American Embassy or Consulate, which can take several weeks. Also, although one may plan to remain in the US for only a few years, one might very well change one’s mind about this at some point in the future; the Treaty Investor visa does not lead to Permanent Residency regardless of the amount of time one spends in the US.

Copyright 2008, Ortega-Medina & Associates Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

Orlando Ortega-Medina is lead counsel for the U.S. business immigration law firm of Ortega-Medina & Associates, headquartered in London, England (UK). The firm also maintains an Of Counsel relationship with The Erlich Firm in San Francisco, California. Mr. Ortega-Medina has particular expertise and insight into complex U.S. business immigration cases, and is frequently engaged by other counsel to troubleshoot visa denials.