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All you need to know about the L1 Visa Programme

There are two types of visas in the United States which come under the L1 category, the L-1A and L-1B. Both are non-immigrant visas, allowing foreign employees with specialist knowledge to transfer to their company’s US offices. Both visas are fundamentally the same except an L-1A visa is reserved for senior positions such as managers and executives, whilst L-1B visas are for standard positions.

The validity period for an L-1A is one year for start-up businesses and three years for established businesses. L-1A extensions can be granted in two-year increments for up to seven years.

L-1B visas are also valid for one year for new companies and three years for existing ones. Extensions, however, are permitted in two-year increments for up to five years only. There is the potential for an L-1B visa holder to convert to a L-1A visa, if eligible, which would then increase their length of stay.

L1 visas are specific to your employer, so if applicants were looking to change employers whilst living in the US, they would need to switch to a H1 visa, if they were eligible to do so.

Spouses and children under 21 are permitted to accompany L1 visa holders to the US, under an L2 visa.

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How to apply for an L1 visa?

Employers are required to file L-1A and L-1B visa petitions on behalf of their employee, filing the petition at the service centre local to the business in question. The employer must complete a Form I-129 and L supplement, complete a Form DS-160 and arrange a visa interview for the employee where the employee must bring the relevant L1 visa documents. The required documents include a range of paperwork from your original company as well as the US company, such as stock certificates, audited accounts and financial statements.

What are the requirements for L1 visas?

There are multiple requirements which L1 employees must meet in order to be eligible for the L-1A and L-1B visas:

  • Employees have been working for a relevant overseas organisation for at least one continuous year within the last 3 years prior to entering the US.
  • The employee is looking to enter the US and has specialised knowledge, working for a branch within the same organisation or employer.

Employers must also meet the following criteria:

  • Must have an established relationship with a foreign company, affiliate, or branch.
  • Companies must be conducting business in the US and one other country for the duration of the L-1 employees’ stay in the US.

US political responses to the L1 visa

Former US President Barack Obama announced that he would make the L-1B visa programme more streamlined to make it easier for businesses to temporarily move workers from a foreign office to a US office. “My administration is going to reform the L-1B visa category, which allows corporations to temporarily move workers from a foreign office to a US office in a faster, simpler way,” the President said during an address at the investment-oriented SelectUSA.

“This could benefit hundreds of thousands of non-immigrant workers and their employers; that in turn, will benefit our entire economy and spur additional investment.” IT companies typically prefer to bring in staff on L1 visas, which allow intra-company transfers, because there is no quota on the number of visas issued in a year, unlike H1-B visas which are subject to a cap.

Obama’s announcement on L-1B visas came just days after the National Foundation for American Policy released a report which outlined the rising difficulty foreign nationals are having obtaining the visa.

During his speech at the summit, President Obama reiterated his desire to see reform made to the country’s immigration programme. “One of the things that would make America even more attractive to businesses and that would grow our economy and shrink our deficits, and keep this country safer, stronger, and smarter, would be a comprehensive immigration reform package,” he said. “We want to make it as simple and as attractive for [foreign investors] to set up shop here as is possible. The bottom line is this, America is proudly open for business.”

Current US President, Donald Trump, however, temporarily suspended applications for L1, J1 and H-1B visas during June 2020, in a bid to protect American jobs during the coronavirus pandemic. The visa suspension mostly affected large American/Indian technology firms who rely heavily on L1 visas to transfer staff members.

The visa suspension has since been partially lifted by a district judge for businesses within the following trade groups:

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