The United States L1 visa is classified in the US Immigration system as a non-immigrant visa allowing companies situated in the US and overseas to transfer employees of certain types from its foreign operations to the US operations for up to seven years.
Companies operating in the US can apply to the relevant USCIS service center for an L1 visa to transfer someone to the US from their overseas operations. Employees in this category will, initially, be granted an L-1 visa for up to three years.
The employee must have worked for the company office of the US company outside of the US for at least one year out of the last three years.
The 2 types of employees who are eligible for the L-1 visa;
1. Specialized Knowledge Employees
Employees with significant expertise in the company’s products or services, major systems or procedures, research and development or patentented techniques are issued an L-1B visa, initially for 3 years able to be extended to a maximum of 5 years.
2. Managers or Executives
The executive or manager category can be strict and usually requires a detailed description of the role. The person should either have a supervisory responsibility for staff or a major demonstrated prominent rolw. The L-1A visa would be issued in this case, for a 3 year period initially and then able to be extended in two year increments up to a maximum of 7 years.
After completing the maximum period in L-1 visa status, the employee must be employed leave the US for at least a minimum of 1 year before a new application is made for the L-1 visa or even H-1B Visa status. The L-1 visa is a dual intent visa meaning you can apply for a green card while on L-1 visa status. L-1 visa applicants may not be denied a visa on the basis that they are an intending immigrant to the US or that they do not have a residence abroad which they do not intend to abandon. This is also common to the H-1B visa.
The L-1 Visa Application Process
An L-1 visa petition is filed with the USCIS on Form I-129, along with the Form I-129L supplement. These are the documents that are required to verify the application.
a) A detailed job role description and requirements for the position for Managers. For the specialized knowledge position, detailed description of the unique knowledge to be used by the US branch company
b) The corporate relationship between the U.S. company and the foreign company (can be a letter from the corporate secretary, and the Articles of Incorporation of US and Foreign Companies)
c) Documentation verifying the capitalization structure of the company (i.e.. equity ownership documentation)
d) Proof you have qorked at the foreign company for one of the last 3 years
e) If coming to the US to setup a new office branch, evidence of establishment of new office (e.g. lease, sales contract, etc.)
f). Annual report of both US and overseas company or other documents confirming financial stability
g). An organizational chart indicating your role in the US company and the foreign company
h). Copies of applicable business permits/licenses and registrations
For Canadian citizens applying for the L-1 visa under NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement), the petition may be filed at the port of entry like the airport or land border when the person applies for admission.
There is no restriction on the types of business that can sponsor an L1 visa – corporations(S, C, LLC etc.), partnerships, government-owned entities and non-profit organizations are all eligible. There are four business entities in the United States that can offer employment to the alien – a parent company, a branch, a subsidiary, or an affiliate. Sponsoring employer need not be US owned or incorporated. Ownership requirements are not as strict in the case of vary large corporations, where a substantial minority shareholding will be a qualifying relationship.
Some other corporate conditions for the L-1 visa include
i. A US company must control half or more of the foreign subsidiary, and have ultimate decision making power.
ii. The foreign company should control at least half of a US subsidiary, and also have decision making powers over the US branch
iii. Branch US and Overseas companies must each be at least half owned by the same parent organization
iv. US organization that employs sales people abroad can sponsor these employees for the L-1 Visa even in the absence of an Overseas Branch
I hope this helps answer your questions about the L-1 visa and how it works and whether you may be eligible now or in the future to apply for it.