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L-1A Visa vs. L-1B Visa: What is the Difference?

11 min. read
Published: May 21, 2024
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Last Updated: May 21, 2024
  • The information provided on this blog is for general informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice or a substitute for consultation with a licensed attorney. For personalized guidance, please consult with our attorneys.

The L-1 visa is an employment-based visa category established by Congress in 1970, allowing multinational companies to transfer their managers, executives, or key personnel to their U.S. operations. It is commonly referred to as the intracompany transferee visa. There are two main types of L-1 visas: L-1A and L-1B. These types are suitable for employees hired in different positions within a company. Let’s find out the key differences!

What is an L-1A Visa?

The L-1A visa is an intracompany transferee visa that enables multinational companies to transfer their personnel, as managers or executives, to their affiliated U.S. company. Companies can transfer their principal personnel to the U.S. company to establish if it’s a new office, oversee, and operate the business for the visa period.  

Who Qualifies For an L-1A Visa?

The L-1A visa is suitable for individuals employed by a foreign company who intend to be transferred to the U.S. affiliate company to work in a managerial or executive position. L-1A managers and executives may oversee personnel or hold essential functions within the company. 

Additionally, the beneficiary must have worked in a managerial, executive, or specialized employee position for one year within the three years preceding the L-1A application in the foreign company. For new office applications, foreign employment must have been in a managerial or executive capacity if the beneficiary is coming to the United States to work as a manager or executive.

Accordingly, eligibility for managerial or executive capacity also entails different conditions. To qualify as a manager, the beneficiary must:  

  • Manage the organization or a department, subdivision, function, or component of the organization;
  • Supervise and control the work of other supervisory, professional, or managerial employees, or manage an essential function within the organization or a department or subdivision of the organization;
  • If another employee or other employees are directly supervised, have the authority to hire and fire or recommend those as well as other personnel actions (such as promotion and leave authorization) or, if no other employee is directly supervised, function at a senior level within the organization hierarchy or with respect to the function managed; and
  • Exercise discretion over the day-to-day operations of the activity or function for which the employee has authority.

On the other hand, the beneficiary intending to join the U.S. company as an executive must: 

  • Direct the management of the organization or a major component or function of the organization;
  • Establish the goal and policies of the organization, component, or function;
  • Exercise wide latitude in discretionary decisions; and
  • Receive only general supervision or direction from higher-level executives, the board of directors, or stockholders of the organization.

How Long Can You Stay in the U.S. on an L-1A Visa?

The L-1A visa allows the beneficiary to stay in the U.S. for up to seven years to oversee the operations of the U.S. affiliate as an executive or manager. If issued for a U.S. company that has been operational for more than one year, the L-1A visa is initially granted for up to three years and can be extended in two-year increments. However, if the U.S. company has been recently established or has been operational for less than one year, the initial L-1A visa is issued for one year. 

What are the Advantages of an L-1A Visa?

  • As executives or managers, L-1A nonimmigrant visa beneficiaries can work in the U.S. company.
  • L-1A nonimmigrant visa beneficiaries can pursue permanent residency applications under the EB-1C visa immigrant category.
  • Spouses of L-1A beneficiaries can work, and children of the beneficiary under 21 can accompany them.
  • L-1A offers multinational companies the opportunity to transfer their key personnel as an executive or manager to the U.S.
  • Since it is not an immigrant visa category, the L-1A visa does not require a labor certification, simplifying the visa process.

What are the Restrictions and Disadvantages of an L-1A Visa?

  • L-1A beneficiaries must apply for approval from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Without prior approval from USCIS, an L-1A visa application cannot be issued.
  • The L-1A visa has a maximum duration of 7 years and cannot be extended. Additionally, if applying for an L-1A for a new office, the initial approval period is only 1 year.
  • For L-1A new office applications, unlike other L-1 types, foreign employment abroad must have been in a managerial or executive capacity.
  • L-1A holders may only work for the petitioning U.S. employer. 
  • The application process is complex and requires thorough documentation.

What is an L-1B Visa?

The L-1B visa is known as the specialized knowledge visa. It is a nonimmigrant visa type that enables multinational enterprises to bring personnel with specialized knowledge of products, processes, services, etc., to their U.S. enterprise. This allows the company to utilize the employee’s specialized knowledge in its U.S. operations. The L-1B visa has two distinct categories: L-1B special knowledge and L-1B advanced knowledge. 

Who Qualifies For an L-1B Visa?

The L-1B visa is available for personnel of a foreign company who are sent to the US company to work with their special or advanced knowledge.

Additionally, the beneficiary must have worked in a managerial, executive, or specialized employee position for one year within the three years preceding the L-1B application in the foreign company.

  • Special knowledge: To assess whether a beneficiary possesses special knowledge, one must evaluate the beneficiary’s understanding of how the petitioning organization creates, provides, or advances its products, services, research, equipment, techniques, management, or other interests.
  • Advanced knowledge: Assessing advanced knowledge involves examining the beneficiary’s understanding of the specific petitioning organization’s processes and procedures. 

For either special or advanced knowledge, the petitioner typically needs to show that the beneficiary’s expertise is not widespread across the industry. Nevertheless, a beneficiary’s knowledge does not have to be proprietary, unique, or exclusively held within the petitioning organization to be classified as specialized.

How Long Can You Stay in the U.S. on an L-1B Visa?

The L-1B visa allows for a maximum duration of five years. If granted for a U.S. company operational for more than one year, the initial L-1B visa is for up to three years and can be extended for an additional two years. Conversely, if the U.S. company is newly established or has been operational for less than one year, the initial L-1B visa is issued for one year, with extensions available in two-year increments. 

What are the Advantages of an L-1B Visa?

The L-1B visa category offers mostly the same benefits as the L-1A visa. 

  • As specialized knowledge employees, L-1B nonimmigrant visa beneficiaries can work in the U.S.
  • Spouses of the L-1B beneficiary can work, and children under 21 can accompany them.
  • L-1B allows multinational companies to transfer personnel with special or advanced knowledge to utilize that expertise in U.S. operations.
  • Since it is not an immigrant visa category, the L-1B visa does not require a labor certification, simplifying the visa process.

What are the Restrictions and Disadvantages of an L-1B Visa? 

  • L-1B Beneficiaries have to apply for the approval of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. Without the prior approval of USCIS, an L-1B visa cannot be issued. 
  • L-1B visa has a cap of 5 years and cannot be extended. Further, if applying for an L-1B new office, the initial approval period of an L-1B visa is only 1 year. 
  • L-1B Applicants must show their intent to depart the US upon termination of their status.
  • In principle, L-1B holders may only work for the petitioning U.S. employer. 
  • The application process and documentation of specialized knowledge requirements are rather complex. 

What are the Main Differences Between the L-1A Visa and the L-1B Visa?

L-1A and L-1B have some major differences.  

  • L-1A and L-1B visas are primarily distinguished by the holders of the visa. The L-1A visa is issued for executives and managers, whereas L-1B visa holders must possess specialized knowledge.
  • L-1A visa entails high-management responsibilities, while L-1B visa holders utilize their specialized knowledge in the U.S. company.
  • The maximum stay allowed by each visa also varies. L-1A visa holders can stay in the U.S. for up to seven years, while L-1B visa holders can work in the U.S. for up to five years.
  • L-1A visa can lead to an EB-1C immigrant visa, whereas L-1B visa cannot lead directly to permanent residence status. However, EB2 and EB3 categories may be applicable for the L-1B visa if the requirements are met.

How Does the Application Process Differ?

Other than the main differences in visa requirements, there isn’t much disparity in the application process for L-1A and L-1B visas. Pre-approval from USCIS is required for both visa types, however, there are nuances regarding the documentation of eligibility for the visas. 

For L-1A:

The petitioner should demonstrate that the beneficiary’s at least one year of employment in the preceding three years in a managerial, executive, or specialized knowledge capacity in the foreign company, and that the beneficiary will be employed in a managerial or executive capacity in the U.S. operations.

For L-1B:

The petitioner must show at least one year of employment in the preceding three years in a managerial, executive, or specialized knowledge capacity in the foreign company, and that the beneficiary will be employed in a specialized knowledge capacity.

What are the Differences in Eligibility For Permanent Residency Between L-1A and L-1B Visa Holders?

L-1A beneficiaries may apply for the EB-1C immigrant visa category as multinational managers and executives if the requirements are met. However, L-1B visa holders cannot directly adjust their status to EB-1C. Nonetheless, L-1B beneficiaries may apply for EB-2 and EB-3 visas if all requirements are met.

Which Visa is Suitable For You, L-1A or L-1B?

If you’re a company owner actively involved in operations and wish to expand your business into the U.S. market, or if you hold a high-level position within the company, you may qualify for the L-1A visa to work as a manager or executive in the U.S. company. Conversely, if you possess special or advanced knowledge within your company, you may be eligible for transfer to the U.S. to apply your specialized skills.

Do I Need Help From an Immigration Attorney to Apply For an L-1A or L-1B Visa?

The L-1 visa process involves complex procedures, necessitating thorough documentation and careful scrutiny of legal requirements on a case-by-case basis. In this regard, the assistance of an immigration attorney is crucial for ensuring the successful completion of the process.

Work with Oguz Law’s Immigration Attorneys for your L-1A and L-1B Visa Applications

As Oguz Law, we offer extensive legal services to our clients for their L-1A and L-1B visa applications, supported by our experienced team. We assist clients throughout the entire process, from the initial stages to the issuance of their L-1A and L-1B visas. Our dedicated team prepares comprehensive application packages, which include a thorough business plan for the U.S. company and all necessary documents demonstrating visa requirements are met.

Frequently Asked Questions About L-1A and L-1B Visas

Is It Difficult to Get an L-1A Visa?

Indeed, the L-1A visa is a frequently applied visa type, thus USCIS rigorously scrutinizes all requirements. 

Can I go from L-1B to L-1A?

Yes, if an L-1B visa holder meets the requirements for the L-1A nonimmigrant classification, a change of status may be applicable.  

Can L-1B Visa Apply For a Green Card?

The L-1B visa does not directly lead to a green card. Only L-1A beneficiaries may apply for the EB-1C immigrant visa and subsequently for a green card if they meet the special requirements. L-1B visa holders, however, may apply for the EB-2 or EB-3 categories. 

How Many Years Can I Stay With My L-1 Visa?

The L-1A visa is issued for a maximum period of five years, whereas the L-1B visa is granted for a period of up to five years. 

What Happens After 7 Years of L-1A Visa?

After 7 years with an L-1A Visa, the L-1A status comes to an end. You cannot extend your L-1A visa beyond this period, so you may have to apply for another non-immigrant visa or immigrant classification to legally stay in the U.S. 

Can an L-1B Visa Be Extended Beyond 5 Years?

No, L-1B visas cannot be extended beyond 5 years

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