Can I Transfer My L-1 visa To A Different Employer?

Glen D. Wasserstein, Managing Partner of ILG, specializes in immigration law, focusing on E-2 Investor Visas, L-1 visas, H-1B visas, and federal litigation. With a background in international relations, he founded ILG in 1996 and has addressed human trafficking at the United Nations Convention on Crime.

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Switching jobs can be exciting, but navigating visa options while employed on an L-1 can be complex. Unlike the green card process with its lengthy wait times and permanent residency goal, L-1 visas offer flexibility. These dual-intent, two nonimmigrant work visas (L-1A for executives and L-1B for specialized knowledge workers) allow you to explore new opportunities without jeopardizing your eventual green card path. However, changing employers on an L-1 requires understanding the requirements.

This guide will clarify the process for transitioning to a new company, whether it’s a promotion within the same organization or a move to a completely new office, ensuring a smooth transfer and continued pursuit of your long-term goals.

Intra-company Moves with an L-1 Visa: Changing Roles Within the Same Company

The L-1 visa allows qualified employees to transfer from a foreign company to its affiliated branch, parent, subsidiary, or affiliate in the United States. But what happens if you want to switch roles within the same company after receiving your L-1 visa?

This article explores the options available to L-1 visa holders, a category of nonimmigrant work visas for foreign workers when considering a job change within the US. While L-1 visas provide a pathway for qualified foreign workers to transfer from a foreign company to a US affiliate temporarily, questions arise regarding their status if they seek a new role.

The good news is that, in most cases, L-1 visa holders can change jobs within their US employer and maintain their L-1 status. However, it’s crucial to follow the proper procedures.

Can I Change Roles?

Yes, you generally can change roles within your US employer on your existing L-1 visa, as long as the new specialty position aligns with your L-1 visa category.

There are two main categories of L-1 visas:

L-1A: for executives and managers who are coming to oversee and manage an establishment, branch, or affiliate of their US company.

L-1B: for specialized knowledge workers with specialized knowledge possessed by the foreign company essential to the operation of the US branch, subsidiary, or affiliate.

The key here is that your new role should still fall under the category of your L-1 visa. For example, if you were transferred on an L-1B visa for your expertise in engineering software, a switch to a marketing position wouldn’t be appropriate. You would likely need a new visa application reflecting the marketing role.

What Do You Need to Do?

Even though you’re not technically switching employers, USCIS (U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services) still needs to be notified of any significant changes to your employment terms. This includes a change in job title, duties, or salary.

Here are the steps you should take when changing roles within your US L1 visa change employer on an L-1 visa:

  1. Consult with your Employer’s Immigration Attorney: It’s always best to involve your company’s immigration attorney to ensure the smoothest transition. They can assess the new position and confirm whether it aligns with your L-1 category.

  2. Prepare an Amended L-1 Petition: Your same employer will need to file an amended L-1 petition with USCIS. This blanket petition should detail the changes in your employment, including your new job position, duties, and salary.

  3. Maintain Documentation: Ensure you have proper documentation to support your qualifications for the new role within the multinational company.

Important Note: It’s crucial to file the amended petition with USCIS before you begin your new role. Working in a position outside the scope of your L-1 category could jeopardize your visa status.

Additional Considerations

  • Promotion vs. Lateral Move: While both promotions and lateral moves require an amended petition, a promotion might involve a more thorough review by USCIS.

  • Processing Time: The processing time for amended L-1 petitions can vary. While some petitions might be approved quickly, others could take several months. It’s best to initiate the process well before your desired start date for the new role.

Changing roles within the same company on an L-1 visa is possible, but it’s important to follow the proper procedures and ensure your new job aligns with your visa category. Consulting with an immigration attorney can provide valuable guidance and ensure a smooth transition within your US company.

Changing Employers with an L-1 Visa: Exploring Your Options

The L-1 visa provides a pathway for qualified employees to transfer from a foreign company to a related US entity. But what if you find a new opportunity outside your current company structure? While transferring your L-1 visa directly to an employer isn’t always straightforward, several paths can help you stay and work in the US.

Considering a New Employer?

L-1 visas are designed for intra-company transfers, meaning they are tied to a specific employer relationship. Unfortunately, you cannot directly transfer your L-1 visa to a completely new and unaffiliated employer.

Here are some key points to consider:

Exceptions: There’s a limited exception. If the employer has a qualifying relationship with your previous company (parent multinational companies, subsidiary, affiliate, or branch established within the past three years and where you worked for one same year in a managerial or specialized knowledge capacity), you might be eligible for an internal transfer under your L-1 category.

New Visa Application: In most cases, changing employers with an L-1 visa requires a new visa application, typically for a different visa category depending on the new position.

Transferring Your L-1 Visa to a Different Company (Limited Situations)

As mentioned earlier, there’s a narrow window for transferring your L-1 visa to a new company with a qualifying relationship to your previous employer. Here’s what you need to know:

  • Qualifying Relationship: The employer must have a demonstrably qualifying relationship with your previous company as defined by USCIS (parent company, subsidiary, branch, or affiliate).

  • One-Year Work Requirement: You must have worked for the previous company with a relationship in a managerial or specialized knowledge capacity for at least one year out of the past three years.

  • New L-1 Petition: Your employer will need to file a new L-1 petition with USCIS on your behalf, demonstrating you meet the eligibility criteria for your L-1 category (L-1A for executives/managers or L-1B for specialized knowledge workers).

Important Note: This option is highly specific and may not apply to everyone seeking an employer. It’s crucial to consult with an immigration attorney to assess your eligibility for an internal transfer under your L-1 category.

What are the Visa Options to Remain in the US Working for a Different Employer?

If a transfer under your L-1 category isn’t feasible, several alternative visa options could allow you to stay and work in the US with an employer:

  • H-1B Visa: This visa is suitable for specialty occupations requiring a bachelor’s degree or its equivalent in experience and specialized knowledge. Your employer would need to sponsor your H-1B visa petition and demonstrate a labor shortage in the position. Additionally, H-1B visas are subject to an annual cap, making competition high.

  • Other Employment-Based Visas: Depending on your qualifications and the job offer, other employment-based visas like the EB-2 (advanced formal degree or exceptional ability) or EB-3 (skilled workers) might be explored. These visas often involve a lengthier and more complex application process.

  • O-1 Visa: This visa is intended for people who possess exceptional talent in business, education, the arts, sciences, or athletics. It requires extensive documentation to showcase your achievements and recognition within your field.

  • Choosing the Right Visa: Selecting the best visa option depends on your specific situation, the new job offer, and your qualifications. Consulting with an experienced immigration lawyers is vital to navigate the complexities of each visa category and determine the most suitable path for your goals.

While directly transferring your L-1 visa to a completely new employer might not be possible, alternative visa options can help you pursue new opportunities in the US. Exploring your options with an immigration attorney allows you to make informed decisions and continue your professional journey in the United States.

Job Loss and Visa Status: Understanding Your Options with an L-1 Visa

An L-1 visa provides a valuable opportunity for qualified specialized knowledge employees to transfer from a foreign company to a US affiliate. However, unforeseen circumstances like job loss can raise concerns about your visa status. This section explores what happens to your L-1 visa if your employment with the sponsoring company is terminated.

Understanding Your Grace Period

The good news is that L-1 visa holders benefit from a grace period after losing their job. This grace period allows you some time to either find a sponsoring employer who can sponsor a different visa holder or make arrangements to depart the US. The duration of this grace period depends on two factors:

  • The validity period remaining on your I-94 form: This form serves as an arrival/departure record and includes an expiration date.

  • The standard grace period: USCIS grants a standard grace period of 60 days following job termination.

    Whichever period is shorter becomes your grace period. For example, if your I-94 is set to expire in 30 days and you lose your job, your grace period would be 30 days, not 60.

Important Note: Engaging in unauthorized employment during the grace period is strictly prohibited and could jeopardize your immigration status.

Taking Action During the Grace Period

Here are some crucial steps to take as soon as you learn about your job termination:

  • Contact an Immigration Attorney: Seek guidance from an experienced immigration attorney in DC specializing in L-1 visas. They can assess your specific situation and advise you on the best course of action.

  • Explore Employer Options: If you wish to remain in the US, actively search for an employer willing to sponsor a different work visa, such as an H-1B visa.

  • Prepare for Departure: If finding a new sponsor isn’t feasible, begin making arrangements to depart the US before your grace period ends. This includes selling belongings, securing travel documents, and notifying relevant authorities.

Maintaining Your Status During the Grace Period

While the grace period provides some breathing room, it’s important to maintain your L-1 visa status during this time. Here’s how:

  • Avoid Unauthorized Employment: Working without proper authorization can have serious consequences for your immigration status.

  • Maintain Communication with USCIS: If you have applied for a change of status to another visa category, ensure you respond promptly to any requests for information from USCIS.

If you’re on an L-1 visa and thinking about changing jobs, it’s crucial to speak with an L1 visa lawyer. They can help you understand different visa options, check your eligibility, and guide you through the process for a seamless transition, whether it’s a new role with your current employer or a move to a different company.

Beyond the Grace Period

If you remain in the US beyond the authorized grace period, you risk falling out of status. This can lead to deportation proceedings, significant challenges in obtaining future visas, and potential re-entry bans.

Losing your job with an L-1 visa can be stressful, but understanding the grace period and your options can empower you to navigate this situation effectively. Consulting with immigration lawyers like Immigration Law Group is crucial to explore potential visa pathways and ensure a smooth transition during this time.