L-1 visa

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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 five years (India, Japan, Germany), based on a reciprocity schedule.[1] With extensions, the maximum stay is seven years.[2]

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.[2] One L-1 visa can allow multiple employees entry into the United States.

Spouses of L-1 visa holders are allowed to work without restriction in the US (using an L-2 visa) incident to status,[3] and the L-1 visa may legally be used as a stepping stone to a green card under the doctrine of dual intent. In 2019, there were 13,839 new work authorizations for L-1 visa spouses to work.[4]

In 2022, the agency approved 72,958 visas.[5] The government approves 97% of L-1 visa petitions. Between 1997 and 2019, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) approved 1.5 million L-1 visas.[6] The number of L-1 visa workers have grown from 140,810 in 1997 to 374,234 foreign visa workers in 2017, a 165.7% increase in two decades.[7]

In 2019, the largest occupation category for L-1A and L-1B workers were custom computer programming services, with 35.8% and 18.8% of total petitions approved, respectively.[8]

Since 2000, Indian nationals are the largest receivers of L-1 visas. The number of L-1 visas given to Indian nationals jumped from 4.5 percent in 1997 to 43.8 percent in 2006.[9] In 2019, Indian nationals received 18,354 L-1 visas, accounting for 23.8% of all L-1 visas issued in 2019.[7]

According to USCIS data, the largest employers to receive L-1 visas in 2019 were Tata Consultancy with 1,542 approved L-1 visa petitions, Infosys with 517, Amazon with 455, Cognizant with 382, and Deloitte with 305.[10] Between 2015 and 2019, Tata Consultancy received the greatest number of L-1 visas with 8,206 L-1 visas, followed by Cognizant with 4,774 L-1 visas.[11][12][13][14]

Policy History Timeline[edit]

  • Congress created the L-1 visa in 1970.[15] It was introduced as a "noncontroversial amendment" for multinational American firms.[16] The original visa required that the work tenure correspond directly prior to applying for the company transfer.[17] Congress originally did not define "specialized knowledge".[18]
  • In 1980, the State Department issued 26,535 L-1 visas.[16] In the late 1980s, the number of L-1 visa entries averaged 60,000-70,000.[19]
  • The Immigration Act of 1990 expanded the visa, made it dual intent, and split the act into two categories, L-1A and L-1B.[20] Dual intent allowed foreigners on a non-immigrant temporary visa, the ability to apply for a green card. In 1990, there were 14,341 L-1 visa issuances.[21]
  • The number of L-1 visas rose throughout the 1990s and early 2000s. During this period, The IT and computer outsourcing firms became major users of the L-1 visa program, with nine of the top ten firms for L-1B visa petitions.[22] Major Indian outsourcing firms such as Tata, Infosys, and Wipro increasingly used the L-1 visa to staff American multinational corporations. Half of Tata's workers brought to the United States came on L-1 visas.[19]
  • The North American Free Trade Agreement had provisions regarding intracompany transfers between the U.S., Canada, and Mexico.
  • Between 1998 and 2002, the number of L-1 visas granted increased 50% from 38,667 to 58,000.[23]
  • By 2000, Immigration and National Service recorded 294,658 visa entries.[19]
  • In 2002, Congress allowed L-1 visa spouses, who are on an L-2 visa, the authorization to work freely within the United States.
  • In 2003, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on the L-1 visa.[24]
  • In fiscal year 2004, the number of L-1B visas surpassed the number of L-1A visas.[22]
  • In 2004, the House of Representatives Committee on International Relations held a hearing on the L-1 visa.[19]
  • In 2004, President Bush signed L-1 Visa Reform Act of 2004.
  • In 2004, the number of L-1B visas exceeded the number of L-1A visas.[22]
  • In 2006, the United States Department of Homeland Security Inspector General issued a report on the L visa.[22]
    • The report recommended verification of applications by State Department officials in the relevant country.
  • Between 2004 and 2008, L-1 visa use increased 34%.[25]
  • In 2010, the number of issued L-1 visas was 74,719.[26]
  • In 2011, the number of L-1 visa approvals was 33,301, with 80.8% of visa approvals going to Indian nationals.[18]
  • In 2013, the Office of the Inspector General within DHS released a report, titled, "Implementation of L-1 visa Regulation".[18]
  • In 2015, Senators Grassley and Senator Durbin introduced the H-1B and L-1 Visa Reform Act of 2015.[27][28]

Types of L-1 Visas[edit]

The L-1 visa has two subcategories:

  • L-1A for executives and managers, valid up to 7 years.
  • L-1B for workers with specialized knowledge, valid up to 5 years

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:

  • Regular L-1 visas, which must be applied for and approved for each individual by the USCIS; and
  • Blanket L-1 visas, which are available to employers that meet certain criteria.

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 visa L1 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 process[edit]

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.[29]

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.[30] 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.


The Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2016 (Public Law 114-113), signed into law by President Obama on December 18, 2015, increases fees for certain H-1B and L-1 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. These petitioners must submit an additional fee of $4,000 for certain H-1B petitions and $4,500 for certain L-1A and L-1B petitions postmarked on or after December 18, 2015.[31]


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.

Change of Status from L-1B to L-1A[edit]

A petition to change status to visa L1A may be filed on behalf of a foreign national in L-1B status in order for the individual to move into a managerial position or an executive position. In order for the L-1B worker to be eligible for the full 7 years of L-1 status typically provided to L-1A workers, the petition must be approved by United States Citizenship and Immigration Services at least 6 months prior to the individual reaching the 5-year maximum period in L-1B status.[32]

Limits on employment authorization[edit]

A person in L-1 status generally may work only for the petitioning company. If the L-1 worker enters based on an L-1 blanket, however, it generally is possible for the worker to be moved in the same capacity to any other related company listed on the blanket.[33]


The L-1 visa program has been criticized for many reasons. Guestworker experts and critics have found that the program offers little labor and wage protections, limited skill requirements, and oversight. The visa enables employers to replace American workers while allowing outsourcing firms to conduct knowledge transfer to other countries.

No Wage and Labor Protections[edit]

A key problem that critics and labor experts have with the L-1 visa is that the program has no minimum wage requirement or wage protections, meaning companies can pay L-1 visa workers a far lower salary while in the United States. In one example, The U.S. Department of Labor fined Electronics for Imaging $3,500 for paying its L-1 visa workers $1.21 an hour and working some of them up to 122 hours a week.[34]

Worker Replacement[edit]

Some industry representatives have accused companies of utilizing the L-1 program to replace U.S. workers.[35][36][37][38]

Poor Skill Definition[edit]

Detractors and government officials have pointed out how the visa program does not define "specialized knowledge" for foreign workers in the L-1B visa category. The Inspector General for the Department of Homeland Security in 2006 found that the visa "is so broadly defined that adjudicators believe they have little choice but to approve almost all petitions.”[25]

Lack of Worker Mobility[edit]

The L-1 visa program has from the beginning, been a visa where the holder cannot transfer between employers. Many have pointed out that tying the visa to the employer limits worker mobility and increases employer control over the worker.

No Limits[edit]

Many critics have a problem that there is no limit to the number of L-1 visas the United States can issue.

Job Offshoring & Knowledge Transfer[edit]

Outsourcing firms such as Tata, Cognizant, Infosys, and others are the biggest users of the L-1 visa. These companies, critics argue, bring in workers to staff American companies using visas to offshore jobs and transfer knowledge abroad.

Another form of offshoring of the L-1 visa is that it allows guest workers to work onshore in order to coordinate offshore activities better.

When Siemens laid off computer programmers Patricia Fluno and Mike Emmons, they had to train their foreign L-1 visa replacements to receive their severance.[39]

The workers brought on visas via Tata Consultancy made a third the wage of an American.[24]

Knowledge Transfer[edit]

Critics have taken issue with how the L-1 visa facilitates knowledge transfer to foreign countries and workers. American multinationals such as Intel use Americans to train L-1 visa workers so that they can return and manage their growing overseas offices. American workers are therefore asked to give away their knowledge to an up and coming foreign competitor while allowing companies to export their job more easily in the near future.[39]

Bridge to Immigration?[edit]

Some policy scholars have noted that even as companies say the L-1 visa serves to transition guest workers into naturalized U.S. workers, employers have done little to sponsor these visa workers for green cards. In 2008, Intel and Exxon Mobil sponsored none of its L-1 visa workers for green cards after receiving 226 and 207, respectively.[25]

Expedited Green Cards for "Executives" and "Managers"[edit]

Critics of the program say the L-1 visa provides an expedited green card pathway. L-1A visa workers qualify for an EB-1 visa green card. The EB-1 is supposed to be for people with "extraordinary ability." The allowance of executives and managers relaxes the standards set for the first preference employment-based category.

Visa Statistics[edit]

Top 10 L-1 employers by petitions approved, Fiscal Year 2019[10]
Employer name Employer industry Approved Petitions
Tata Consultancy Services Computer programming 1,542
Infosys Computer programming 517
Amazon Electronic Shopping 455
Cognizant Computer Systems Design 382
Deloitte[a] Professional services 305
IBM Computer systems design 280
Tech Mahindra Computer programming 275
Schlumberger Oil and gas technology 247
Genpact Computer programming 190
Sapient Computer programming 152
2000-2022 State Department L-1 Visa Issuances[21]
Year Number of L-1 Visa Issuances
2000 54,963
2001 59,384
2002 57,721
2003 57,245
2004 62,700
2005 65,458
2006 72,613
2007 84,532
2008 84,078
2009 64,696
2010 74,719
2011 70,728
2012 62,430
2013 66,700
2014 71,513
2015 78,537
2016 79,306
2017 78,178
2018 74,388
2019 76,988
2020 35,228
2021 24,863
2022 72,958

Use for other countries[edit]

An individual with a valid L-1 visa does not need a visa to enter Costa Rica for tourism for up to 30 days.[40] The L-1 visa must be stamped in the passport and be valid for at least six months.[40] The passport needs to be valid for at least six months after entering Costa Rica.[40]


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  4. ^ "Form I-765 Application for Employment Authorization" (PDF).
  5. ^ "State Department Visa Issuance FY2022" (PDF).
  6. ^ "State Department Visa Issuance FY1997-FY2021".
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  8. ^ "Summary of Approved L-1 Petitions by Employers for 2019" (PDF).
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  17. ^ "Testimony by Stephen Yale-Loehr on L-1 Visas" (PDF). Congress.
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  21. ^ a b "Nonimmigrant Visa Statistics". travel.state.gov. Retrieved 2023-03-26.
  22. ^ a b c d Department of Homeland Security Office of the Inspector General, “Review of Vulnerabilities and Potential Abuses of the L-1 Visa Program,”
  23. ^ "A Mainframe-Size Visa Loophole". Bloomberg.com. 2003-03-06. Retrieved 2023-02-13.
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  27. ^ "H-1B and L-1 Visa Reform Act of 2015".
  28. ^ "Analysis of the "H-1B and L-1 Visa Reform Act of 2015"". CIS.org. Retrieved 2023-02-28.
  29. ^ L1 Visa Guidelines USCIS
  30. ^ "Employment Authorization for Non-immigrants". Social Security Administration. 2011-11-08. Retrieved 2011-12-30. For COAs displaying a double asterisk (**) (non-immigrant E-1, E-2, and L-2 classifications), the spouse is also authorized to work without specific DHS authorization.
  31. ^ "New Law Increases H-1B and L-1 Petition Fees". USCIS. Retrieved 2016-01-13.
  32. ^ "8 C.F.R. §214.2(l)(15)(ii)". United States Citizenship and Immigration Services. Retrieved 22 August 2013. "When an alien was initially admitted to the United States in a specialized knowledge capacity and is later promoted to a managerial or executive position, he or she must have been employed in the managerial or executive position for at least six months to be eligible for the total period of stay of seven years. The change to managerial or executive capacity must have been approved by the Service in an amended, new, or extended petition at the time that the change occurred."
  33. ^ "Foreign Affairs Manual - 9 FAM 402.12-8(I)". U.S. Department of State. Retrieved 22 August 2016.
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  36. ^ Tamen, Joan Fleischer (August 10, 2013). "Visa Holders Replace Workers". Sun Sentinel.
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  39. ^ a b Hira, Ron. Outsourcing America.
  40. ^ a b c "Situations That Do Not Need Tourist Visa to Enter Costa Rica". Embassy of Costa Rica in Washington, D.C. Retrieved December 10, 2018.

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