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L-1 Visas

L-1 Visas

These materials are provided solely for informational purposes and are not legal advice. Transmission of these materials is not intended to create, and receipt does not constitute, an attorney-client relationship. Readers should not act upon the information contained in these FAQs without first seeking advice from a qualified attorney.

What is an L-1 visa?

The L is a non-immigrant visa category allowing individuals who are employed at an entity abroad in a certain capacity, for a required period of time, to transfer to the U.S. provided that they will work for a parent, branch, affiliate, or subsidiary of a U.S. entity (“related foreign entity”) in a similar capacity.

Who may qualify for an L visa?

A foreign national who has been employed continuously for at least 1 year (within the past 3 years) by a related foreign entity may qualify for L status.  The foreign national must generally be coming to the U.S. to perform work similar to that performed for the related foreign entity.

I have been employed by a related foreign entity for over a year, but have spent a great deal of that time on business trips to the United States.  Can I still qualify for an L visa?

It depends.  You will be required to demonstrate that, within the 3 year qualifying period, you have been physically present outside the United States and working for the related foreign entity for at least 365 days.  This physical presence need not be continuous, but it must total at least 365 days.

What are the various types of L-1 visas available to a U.S. company sponsor?

Foreign nationals may be eligible for either the L-1B visa or the L-1A visa.

What is the difference between the L-1B visa and the L-1A visa?

A foreign national who has been employed at a related foreign entity for a period of at least 1 year (in the past 3 years) in a specialized knowledge position (i.e. one which involves specialized knowledge of the company’s propriety product or services, or knowledge not easily gained or transferrable) may be eligible for L-1B status. A foreign national who has been employed with a related foreign entity for a period of at least 1 year (in the past 3 years) in either an executive level or senior managerial position may qualify for L-1A status.

Is there a limitation on the period of L-1 status granted to a foreign national?

Foreign nationals are eligible to stay in the U.S. for a total period of 5 years in L-1B status (specialized knowledge) and 7 years in L-1A status (executive/managerial).  L visa holders are typically admitted for an initial period of 3 years.  Extensions of L status are typically granted in 2 year increments up to the maximum limit.  After the limit has been reached, the foreign national is not eligible to extend that period of stay in the U.S. However, if the individual leaves the U.S. and resides and is physically present abroad for 1 full year, a new period of eligibility-- L-1A (7 years) or L-1B status (5 years)—is available.

Are there any exceptions or exemptions that would allow a foreign national to extend their L status beyond the 5/7-year maximum?

Yes. Time spent physically outside the U.S. does not count as time spent in L status.  Therefore, if the foreign national has spent significant time outside of the U.S. since being granted L status, a documented request to recapture that time outside of the U.S. and extend the L period of stay may be approved. 

There is also an exemption to the 5/7-year limitation available to those whose L status is seasonal, intermittent, consists of an aggregate of less than 6 months per year or involves part-time employment through regular commuting from a residence abroad.  Thus, if the foreign national employee remains employed by the related foreign entity and only uses the L status to intermittently enter the U.S. to provide services to the U.S. company or the aggregate time spent in the U.S. is less than 6 months in a year, the L status could be extended indefinitely.

How does a foreign national qualify for exemption of the 5/7 year limitation on L status?

The foreign national must collect and present clear and convincing evidence to establish eligibility for this exemption.  Such evidence would include documentation that they are employed by the related foreign entity, such as payroll records, as well as evidence of the limited time they have spent in the U.S., such as a travel diary documenting details of each entry and exit, and/or airline documents for each and every trip to the U.S., tax returns showing payment of tax abroad and evidence of a residence abroad.

Does the foreign national need to be physically present in the U.S. for the duration of the period of L status and working for the U.S. entity on a full time basis?

No.  Certain foreign nationals may maintain their primary employment with the related foreign entity and only enter the U.S. occasionally to perform services at the related U.S. company on an intermittent or part-time basis.

Are L visa holders required to obtain a visa stamp in their passports before being admitted to the U.S.?

Generally, foreign nationals in L-1 status require a visa in their passport before entering the U.S. They must first apply at a U.S. consulate abroad to obtain the L visa stamp. Canadian citizens are exempt from this visa stamp requirement and are therefore not required to obtain visa stamps in their passports before they are admitted to the U.S.   

Are L visa holders eligible to apply for permanent resident status?

Yes.  Like the H visa, L status is a dual intent status.  As such, L visa holders may apply to adjust their status to that of permanent resident.  Options such as a Multinational Manager visa or a PERM labor certification would be available to those in L status.  

May my spouse work while I am in L status?  If yes, what is the required procedure?

Yes.  Your spouse is eligible for employment authorization after being admitted into the U.S. as an L dependent.  Upon entry to the U.S., spouses should receive an unexpired Form I-94 with a notation reflecting L-2S nonimmigrant status. Upon admission under the L-2S status, spouses will be eligible to work “incident to status.”

(updated 12/2022)

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