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An L-1 visa is a visa document used to enter the United States for the purpose of work in L-1 status. It is a non-immigrant visa, and is valid for a relatively short amount of time, from three months (for Iran nationals) to one year (Mexico), two years (Brazil, Russia, China), to five years (India, Japan, Germany), based on a reciprocity schedule. With extensions, the maximum stay is seven years.
L-1 visas are available to employees of an international company with offices in both the United States and abroad. The visa allows such foreign workers to relocate to the corporation's US office after having worked abroad for the company for at least one continuous year within the previous three prior to admission in the US. The US and non-US employers must be related in one of four ways: parent and subsidiary; branch and headquarters; sister companies owned by a mutual parent; or 'affiliates' owned by the same or people in approximately the same percentages. The L-1 classification also enables a foreign company which does not yet have an affiliated U.S. office to send an employee to the United States to help establish one, with additional requirements.
Spouses of L-1 visa holders are allowed to work without restriction in the US (using an L-2 visa), and the L-1 visa may legally be used as a stepping stone to a green card under the doctrine of dual intent.
The L-1 visa has two subcategories: L-1A for executives and managers, and L-1B for workers with specialized knowledge. L-1A status is valid for up to 7 years, L-1B for 5. After the expiration of the 7 or 5 years respectively, the foreign national can generally only qualify for L-1 status again by working abroad for at least 1 year for the parent, subsidiary, affiliate or branch office of the U.S. company.
There are two types of L-1 procedures:
For a regular L-1 visa, the company must file a petition with the USCIS and each petition is evaluated on its own merits.
In the case of a blanket L-1 visa petition, it has already been determined by USCIS that the company qualifies for the issuance of Intracompany Transferee visa, so the individual visa applicant need only file a copy of the approved blanket petition, along with documents supporting their personal qualifications, with the U.S. consulate or embassy having jurisdiction over their place of residence proving the applicant's qualifications
Application to an L-1 visa begins with the filing of a petition with the U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS) on Form I-129, along with supporting documentation showing that both the U.S. company and the foreign parent, subsidiary, affiliate or branch meet the qualifying factors set forth in the law and regulations.
Notice of approval of the Form I-129 is given by the USCIS on a Notice of Action, Form I-797, and using this as the basis of the application, the alien may apply for visa issuance at a consulate or embassy of the United States in the country having jurisdiction over their residence.
Applicants who are in the United States at the time of the filing of the I-129 can request a change of status from their present nonimmigrant status (i.e. visitor, student, etc.), so long as they are in status at the time of the filing of the I-129. If they go out of status after the filing, but before approval, there is no negative consequence, and the person does not accrue unlawful presence.
Upon application at the consulate or embassy, the spouse and children of the primary applicant who are under the age of 21 may be issued L-2 visas. Children of the primary L-1 can attend school. The spouse of the primary L-1 has an automatic right to work in the United States. Children cannot accept paid employment. The spouse can, but need not, apply with the USCIS for employment authorization after arriving in the United States and, after issuance of the Employment Authorization Document (EAD, Form I-765), may thereafter work for any employer. According to the Social Security Administration, the L-2 spouse is permitted to work, even without an Employment Authorization Document. However, USCIS takes the position that the L-2 spouse must obtain the Employment Authorization Document for I-9 purposes. The spouse may apply directly to Social Security for issuance of a Social Security Number. The documents required for the L-2 Social Security number application are the same as the L-1 holder, but with the addition of either the EAD or an original marriage certificate.
An I-797 Notice of Action showing the approval of the visa petition does not guarantee that a visa will be issued at the U.S. consulate or embassy, but L-1 visas are normally approved if the consular officer concludes that the individual is qualified and that both the U.S. company and the foreign parent, subsidiary, affiliate or branch are legitimate.
Basis for visa denial: A consular officer may deny the issuance of an L-1 visa in cases where the officer determines the U.S. company that filed the L-1 petition may not be qualified, or that the parent, subsidiary, affiliate or branch outside the United States is not qualified or does not intend to continue in business after L-1 visa issuance, or that USCIS approved the petition based on a fraud committed by the company or the visa applicant, or that the applicant is ineligible for that class of visa under section 212(a) of the Immigration and Naturalization Act. In addition, the consular officer may request that the underlying petition be reconsidered by USCIS.
For an L-1 visa applicant, "dual Intent" is allowed: unlike some classes of non-immigrant visas (e.g., J-1 visas), L-1 applicants may not be denied a visa on the basis that they are an intending immigrant to the United States, or that they do not have a residence abroad which they do not intend to abandon.
If the person is a Canadian citizen applying for admission as an L-1 under the North American Free Trade Agreement, the petition may be filed at the port of entry when the person applies for admission.
As of December 2012, costs include a filing fee of $325, an anti-fraud fee of $500, and an optional $1225 fee for premium processing. In addition, there is a $2,250 fee for petitioners who employ 50 or more employees in the United States with more than 50 percent of their employees in the United States in H-1B or L (including L-1A and L-1B) nonimmigrant status.
L-1 status may be renewed and extended within the United States. Except in the case of blanket petitions, a new I-129 petition must be filed. Renewal in the United States applies to status only, not the actual visa in the passport. For visa renewal, the applicant must go to a U.S. consulate or embassy outside the United States. An alien cannot leave the United States and then reenter without a valid L-1 visa, and must appear personally before a consular officer for visa issuance.