L-1 and H1B visas are nonimmigrant visas for high-level workers. Both require employer sponsorship and an elevated degree of education or work experience. In addition, L-1 and H1B visa applicants may have dual intent, meaning they can apply for the nonimmigrant temporary visa with the intention of seeking permanent residency in the United States. Ordinarily, a nonimmigrant visa holder must intend to leave upon expiration of the temporary visa.
Understanding the L-1 Visa
The L-1 is considered the intra-company transferee visa. Only U.S. companies with a related entity in a foreign country may sponsor workers for an L-1 visa. The petitioner may be a branch office, subsidiary, headquarters, parent company or an affiliate of the foreign company that employs the potential transferee. A foreign company without a relationship with a U.S. company may also apply to allow its employee to establish one.
To qualify for an L-1 visa, the beneficiary must be a manager, an executive or have specialized knowledge relevant to the employer’s business. Managers and executives apply for L-1A visas and workers with specialty knowledge apply for L-1B visas.
The initial stay for an L-1 visa is up to three years, unless the employee is coming to the United States to establish a related U.S. entity, in which case he or she may be granted a visa for up to one year. United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has discretion to extend the stay for up to two years at a time until the employee has reached the seven-year maximum stay under the L-1A visa or five years under the L-1B visa.
The employee must have worked for the foreign entity for at least one continuous year within the past three years and prove the managerial, executive or specialized knowledge position.
The L-1 beneficiary’s spouse is eligible to work under an L-2 visa without restriction or employer sponsorship.
Understanding the H1B Visa
H1B visas are reserved for specialty occupations in which:
- A bachelor’s or a higher degree or its foreign equivalent is typically required;
- The degree requirement is the industry standard or is necessary for the particularly unique or complex job the applicant will perform;
- The employer normally requires its employees to hold a degree for the position; and
- The specific specialized and complex job duties are usually associated with a bachelor’s or higher degree.
The beneficiary may qualify only by meeting one of the following scenarios:
- The beneficiary has the U.S. bachelor’s degree (or higher education) required to perform the specialty occupation;
- The beneficiary has an equivalent foreign degree;
- The beneficiary has an unrestricted state license, registration or certification that authorizes practice in the specialty occupation in the state of intended employment;
- The beneficiary has training, experience or education that is equivalent to a degree and has been recognized for his or her expertise.
The employer must also make a labor condition application (LCA) that attests to wages not lower than American workers and to conditions that do not adversely affect American workers. The LCA is not required for an L-1.
The H1B visa may be initially approved for up to three years and extended for up to six years. Unlike the L-1 visa, the H1B cap restricts the annual limit to 65,000, with some exceptions. The spouse of an H1B beneficiary may not be allowed to work, which is another drawback compared to the L-1 visa.
Speak with a Qualified Immigration Lawyer
Talk to a qualified immigration attorney about whether the H1B or L-1 visa is the best option for you. Reach out to a Ask Ellis Concierge to schedule your consultation today .
*The content and materials available via Ask Ellis are for informational purposes only and do not constitute legal advice.