The L-1 Visa: Transferring From Your Foreign Business To a U.S. Office

August 2011 - By Shahzad Ahmed with NeJame Law

Foreign Business Owners: U.S. Immigration law provides an avenue for foreign business owners to transfer their employees to the United States.

The L-1 Visa is one of the most common non-immigrant work-related visas. The L-1 Visa is available for foreign national executives, managers and other persons with specialized knowledge who have been working for a non-U.S. company and that may be transferred to a U.S. company. The U.S. company must be the parent company, subsidiary, branch, affiliate or joint venture partners of the foreign company but does not have to engage in the same line of business than the foreign company.

The L-1 visa is typically approved for an initial period of three years with the possibility of subsequent extensions later on. A petition for a new U.S. office is approved for one year with the possibility of subsequent extensions later on.

The L-1 Visa has two different subcategories: L-1A and L-1B. The L-1A visa is available for managers and executives and the L-1B for staff with specialized knowledge about the company's products and services, systems, proprietary techniques, management, research, or procedures.

L-1 Visa – Requirements

  • The L-1 Visa is available for managers, executives or persons with specialized knowledge.
  • The applicant must have been employed abroad continuously by the foreign operation for the immediate prior year.
  • The employment position for the applicant should require the executive or managerial position, or special knowledge and skills the applicant has.
  • The foreign company must remain in operation while the L-1 Visa is in effect.
  • The L1 Visa petition must be filed by the company.
  • The U.S. and the organization abroad are both actively engaged in doing business.
  • The U.S. operation will support the executive or managerial position within one year.

L-1 Visa Holder's Privileges

  • L-1 Visa holders may bring his/her spouse and dependents less than twenty-one years of age to the US on L-2 visa.
  • L-1 Visa holders' spouses with the L-2 visa can study and work in the U.S. by obtaining proper authorization.
  • Children with the L-2 can attend US schools, colleges and universities.
  • L-1 visa holders may travel in and out of the U.S.
  • May apply for permanent residence without losing L-1 status.
  • The L-1 Visa holders are exempt from Labor Certification.
  • Managers and executive can be on an L-1A Visa for up to 7 years.
  • Staff with specialized knowledge can be on an L-1B Visa for up to 5 years.


Given today's economy, it is becoming more challenging for individuals seeking to extend their L-1 status beyond the first year. Specifically, when extending status, those with a new office are finding it difficult to show to the Immigration Service that the business is generating enough revenue to support their position in addition to the positions of the rest of the employees.


L-1 is a highly beneficial visa for foreign businesspersons seeking to do business in the United States. However, given its complex requirements and the economically challenging climate, any applicant should consult with an experienced immigration lawyer before applying.