The L non-immigrant visa category is one of the most useful tools available to international companies who need to bring qualified foreign employees to the United States. L visa holders do not have to maintain a foreign residence during their U.S. stay and are eligible to seek permanent residency status if they wish. Since the L visa is a dual intent visa, L status holders may file a petition for permanent residency status without compromising their L status or their L-1 visa applications from a US Consular Office abroad. The L-1 visa category also allows for intra-company transferees to bring their family to the United States with them. Family members of the L-1 alien, classified in the L-2 category, may be granted employment authorization to work in the United States after being granted an Employment Authorization Document (EAD).
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Compared to an E visa
An E is another type of employment based non-immigrant visa that can also be used by small business owners or small companies to bring owners or employees to the United States. However, the E visa category is designed solely treaty traders and treaty investors who come to the United States to engage in trade between the U.S. and the country in which they are employed. An E visa is available only when the following three conditions are met:
- A treaty must exist between the United States and the foreign country under whose treaty the E status is sought;
- Majority ownership or control of the investing or trading company must be held by nationals of the foreign country under whose treaty the E status is sought;
- Each employee or principal of the company who is seeking the E status pursuant to the treaty must hold citizenship of the country under whose treaty the status is sought.
At the present time, there are many countries that do not have such treaties with the United States. For those countries, an E visa is simply not available and an L visa might be a good alternative.
Compared to an H-1B Visa
The H-1B non-immigrant visa program is designed to allow U.S. employers to recruit highly specialized foreign employees to live and work in the U.S. for a specified period of time. An H-1B visa is very similar to an L visa in many aspects, such as the limitation on the accumulated authorized period of stay and petition procedure. Those on H-1B visa program are only authorized to stay in the United States for a maximum of six years. Similar to the L visa, an H-1B petition is filed by the employer on behalf of their employee and is dual intent, meaning that the visa holder can petition for permanent resident status without compromising their H-1B status or their visa applications from a US consular office abroad. The major difference, however, is that the employment privilege granted to an L visa holder, in theory, cannot be substituted by a U.S. worker. Under an H-1B visa, the employer must guarantee that their specialized alien worker is receiving the prevailing wage for their position in the geographic area they are working in. L visa holder is not required to be paid the prevailing wage for the position he or she assumes. Furthermore, the H-1B visa is subject to an annual quota and requires a bachelor’s degree. In contrast, one does not need a degree for the L visa, nor is the L visa subject to an annual quota.
EB-1C category considerations
Another benefit of the L-1(a) visa is that it can provide a stepping stone to lawful permanent resident status. A specific employment-based immigrant preference category (EB-1C) was created for managers and executives who meet the L-1 standards and are interested in becoming lawful permanent residents. These aliens are considered “priority workers” in the first preference.