contact@immigrationgroup.com

L1 vs L2 Visa: Understanding the Differences for Intracompany Transfers

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.

Table of Contents

In today’s global business landscape, facilitating key personnel transfers across borders is crucial. The L1 visa supports employees in executive roles or with specialized knowledge, allowing them to work at a U.S. branch of their employer, while the L2 visa enables dependent spouses and children of L1 holders to join them.

This post explores the differences between these nonimmigrant visa categories, focusing on their application processes, requirements, and benefits under immigration law. It’s vital for multinational companies and foreign workers planning intra-company transfers.

The L1 visa specifically caters to transfers from foreign operations to U.S. branches of multinational companies, with L1A for executives and managers, and L1B for specialists with crucial knowledge.

What is an L1 Visa?

L1A Visa: This visa type is tailored for those in executive or managerial capacities. An executive capacity refers to the employee’s ability to make broad decisions without much oversight, whereas a managerial position involves managing the organization or a major part of it, supervising other employees, and controlling operational functions.

L1B Visa: For employees who hold specialized knowledge essential to the business’s products, services, research, or management. This visa acknowledges the vital skills and unique knowledge the visa holder brings to the U.S. branch, contributing significantly to the parent company’s competitiveness in the global market.

Key Benefits

  • Enables the visa holder to work legally in the U.S. with the option for an employment authorization document for dependent spouses.
  • Offers a pathway to permanent residence under certain conditions, aligning with dual intent.
  • Provides opportunities for family members, including minor children and dependent spouses, to accompany the visa holder during their stay in the U.S.

Limitations

  • The L1 visa is tied to the specific employer and cannot be transferred to another company.
  • There is a maximum initial stay of three years, which can be extended to a total of five years for L1B visa holders and seven years for L1A visa holders, after which the visa holder must either change their visa category or leave the U.S.

This visa type supports the international expansion of businesses by allowing the seamless transfer of key personnel to new or existing U.S. operations, thereby facilitating effective management and integration of business practices across borders.

What is an L2 Visa?

The L2 visa is a nonimmigrant visa category specifically for the dependent spouses and minor children of L1 visa holders. It serves to reunite families when the primary L1 visa holder relocates to the United States for work purposes within a multinational company. The L2 visa allows these family members to reside in the U.S. during the L1 visa holder’s assignment.

Who Qualifies for the L2 Visa

  • Spouses of L1 visa holders.
  • Unmarried children under the age of 21 of L1 visa holders.

Rights of L2 Visa Holders

  • Employment Authorization: L2 visa holders can apply for an Employment Authorization Document(EAD), allowing them to work in the U.S. without restrictions on employer or type of employment.
  • Study Permissions: They are also allowed to study in U.S. educational institutions without needing to obtain a separate student visa.
  • Travel: L2 visa holders can travel in and out of the U.S. as long as their visa and L1 visa of the primary holder remain valid.

Limitations

  • Dependence on L1 Visa Holder’s Status: The status of an L2 visa is directly tied to the primary L1 visa holder’s status. If the L1 visa expires or is revoked, the L2 visas are similarly affected.
  • Employment Restrictions: Employment for L2 visa holders is contingent upon receiving an EAD, which must be renewed periodically.
  • Permanent Residence: While L2 visa holders may pursue permanent residence, they must independently qualify and apply for a green card through other eligible categories as the L2 visa itself does not directly lead to permanent residency.

This visa category ensures that L1 visa holders can bring their closest family members with them during their tenure in the U.S., supporting the personal and professional stability of foreign workers and contributing to business operations in the United States.

Application Processes

The application process for L1 and L2 visas—collectively referred to as L visas—involves several key steps and requires careful preparation of necessary documents to ensure compliance with immigration law.

Step-by-Step Guide to Applying for L1 Visas

1. Petition by Employer: The U.S. employer must file Form I-129, Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker, along with the L Supplement, to USCIS on behalf of the employee. This step is crucial as it establishes the eligibility for the L1 visa under the intra company transfer category.

2. Documentation: The employer must provide supporting documents demonstrating the legitimacy of the U.S. business, the relationship with the foreign company, and the qualifications of the employee, including employment verification letters and evidence of managerial position or specialized knowledge.

3. Approval: Once USCIS approves the petition, the foreign worker can apply for the L1 visa at a U.S. embassy or consulate in their home country.

Role of the Employer

The employer plays a critical role throughout the L1 visa application process. They must prove that the U.S. branch can support the executive or managerial position or needs the specialized knowledge of the employee. They also handle most of the petitioning responsibilities and coordinate with immigration services to secure the visa.

Step-by-Step Guide to Applying for L2 Visas

1. Dependent Application: Dependents of the L1 visa holder can apply for L2 visas. This includes spouses and unmarried children under the age of 21.

2. Documentation: Dependents must provide valid passports, original marriage certificate (for spouses), and original birth certificate (for children) as proof of their relationship to the L1 visa holder.

3. Visa Application: Following the L1 approval, dependents may apply for L2 visas through a U.S. embassy or consulate, submitting all necessary documentation along with their visa application.

Rights and Limitations

L2 visa holders can apply for employment authorization documents (EADs) to work in the U.S. They can also pursue education. However, their stay is contingent on the L1 visa holder’s status, and any changes affecting the L1 status will directly impact dependent L2 statuses.

Both L1 and L2 visa applications demand meticulous preparation and understanding of the detailed requirements set by U.S. immigration authorities. By following these guidelines, applicants and their employers can enhance the success of their applications and prevent potential delays.

Requirements

Requirements for L1 Visa Applicants

  1. Managerial or Executive Capacity: Applicants must currently be employed in an executive or managerial position within the company, which implies significant decision-making authority and oversight over the organization or a major part or function of the organization.
  2. Specialized Knowledge: For those applying under the L1B visa, they must possess knowledge of the company’s products, services, processes, or procedures that is not commonly found in the industry and are crucial to the company’s competitiveness in the marketplace.
  3. Employment History: The applicant must have been employed with the foreign company for at least one continuous year within the three years preceding the application. This employment must have been in a managerial, executive, or specialized knowledge capacity.
  4. Ongoing Business: The U.S. business must be a parent company, branch, subsidiary, or affiliate of the foreign company. The business must remain operational while the L1 visa holder is in the U.S.

Eligibility Criteria for L2 Visa Applicants

  1. Relationship to L1 Visa Holder: The applicant must be the spouse or an unmarried child under the age of 21 of an L1 visa holder.
  2. Valid Passport: A current passport valid for travel to the U.S. is required for the application process.
  3. Dependent Status: The L2 visa’s validity and status are dependent on the L1 visa holder’s legal status. Any changes to the L1 visa status will directly affect the L2 visa.

Comparison of Requirements

  • Nature of Eligibility: L1 visas require a professional employment relationship with a multinational company and are directly tied to the applicant’s role and knowledge within the company. In contrast, L2 visas are wholly dependent on the familial relationship with the L1 visa holder.
  • Documentation: L1 visa applications need comprehensive documentation including proof of the applicant’s role in the company (such as an employment verification letter), and the multinational nature of the business (supporting documents proving the relationship between the U.S. and foreign company). L2 visas primarily require personal identification and proof of relationship documents, such as original marriage and birth certificates.
  • Visa Dependence: L1 visa status is independent and linked to the individual’s employment with the company, whereas L2 visa status is contingent upon the L1 visa holder’s status.
  • Work Eligibility: L1 visa holders are authorized to work in the U.S. under the terms of their visa. L2 visa holders may seek employment but must first obtain an employment authorization document.

These distinctions highlight that while both visas facilitate the presence of foreign workers and their families in the U.S., their purposes, eligibility criteria, and the implications for the visa holders differ significantly, reflecting their respective roles in supporting U.S. business operations and family unity.

Processing Time for L1 and L2 Visas

The average processing times for L1 and L2 visas can vary significantly based on several factors. Generally, the processing time for L1 visas ranges from 1 to 4 months. L2 visas, which are dependent on the approval of the corresponding L1 visa, typically follow a similar timeline but may be processed concurrently if filed together with the L1 visa application.

Factors Influencing Processing Times

1. Application Accuracy: Submitting a complete application with all necessary documentation is crucial. Inaccuracies or missing information can lead to delays. It is essential to include all required supporting documents, such as employment verification letters for L1 visas and original marriage and birth certificates for L2 visas.

2. Visa Interview Appointments: The availability of interview appointments can vary by location and time of year. High demand can extend waiting times, so early scheduling is advisable.

3. Workload of Visa Processing Centers: The current workload of the USCIS or the relevant U.S. consulate can affect processing times, with fluctuations throughout the year due to varying application volumes.

4. Request for Evidence (RFE): If USCIS requests further evidence for either an L1 or L2 visa application, this can significantly delay processing.

Tips for Speeding Up the Process

1. Use Premium Processing: For an additional fee, L1 visa applicants can opt for Premium Processing by USCIS, which guarantees processing within 15 calendar days, providing quicker responses and potentially faster overall processing times.

2. Ensure Complete and Accurate Applications: Double-check applications for completeness and accuracy before submission to avoid delays due to RFEs.

3. Early Visa Interview Scheduling: Once the petition is approved, schedule the consulate interview as soon as possible to avoid long waiting times, especially during peak seasons.

Understanding these aspects and preparing accordingly can help minimize waiting times and streamline the application process for both L1 and L2 visas, facilitating smoother and more predictable intra company transfers and family reunification in the U.S.

Approval and Change or Adjustment of Status

Once L1 and L2 visas are approved, visa holders are authorized to enter and work in the U.S. under specific conditions. The duration of stay is initially up to three years for L1 visa holders, which can be extended in two-year increments, with a total stay not exceeding five years for L1B and seven years for L1A visa holders. L2 visa holders are granted stay for the same period as the primary L1 visa holder.

What is Status Adjustment and Change?

1. Adjustment of Status: L1 visa holders can apply for an adjustment of status to become lawful permanent residents (green card holders) without leaving the U.S. This process involves filing Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status. L2 visa holders, particularly spouses, can also adjust their status, provided they have a valid marriage certificate and meet all other requirements.

2. Change of Status: Both L1 and L2 visa holders can apply to change their nonimmigrant status to another nonimmigrant visa category if they meet the eligibility criteria for the new visa. This is done by filing Form I-129 (for L1) or Form I-539 (for L2) with USCIS.

Scenarios Where Status Adjustment or Change May Occur

  • Job Change: If an L1 visa holder finds a different employer or changes roles within the same company that may not qualify under the original L1 conditions, a change of status may be required.
  • Establishing a New Office: When an L1 visa holder is initially granted a visa to establish a new U.S. branch, the visa is approved for one year. Extension requests require showing progress in business operations, fitting under homeland security and immigration law criteria.
  • Family Status Change: For L2 visa holders, reaching the age of 21 or changes in marital status may require a change in visa type to remain in legal status.

Transition to Other Visa Types or Permanent Residency

  • From L1 to Green Card: L1 visa holders, especially those on L1A visas, have a straightforward path to a green card under the EB-1C category, designated for multinational managers or executives. This process benefits from dual intent, allowing them to apply for permanent residence.
  • From L2 to Work Visa: L2 visa holders who obtain work authorization may transition to employer-sponsored visa types, such as H-1B, if they find a sponsoring employer and meet the visa requirements.
  • Dependents: Spouses and unmarried children who reach age limits or wish to seek employment may need to change their status to a visa type that allows more independent rights.

Conclusion

Navigating the complexities of L1 and L2 visas requires a thorough understanding of the associated requirements and processes under U.S. immigration law. Whether you’re considering an intracompany transfer or seeking to accompany a family member on their professional journey, consulting with an L-1 visa attorney can provide crucial guidance and support. The expertise of a professional from the Immigration Law Group can help ensure a smooth application process, aiding in successful outcomes and compliance with all legal requirements.

Also, for further tailored and expert legal support, consult our New Orleans immigration attorneys.