Navigating the world of US immigration can be a complex endeavor. For companies looking to expand their operations to the US, one of the most viable options in many cases is the L1 visa. This visa provides a legal pathway for businesses to transfer key personnel from the UK and other countries to their US office, or to a new US office. However, the process can often be confusing and lengthy, especially when it comes to determining the processing times. This comprehensive guide aims to demystify the L1 visa process, shedding light on the steps involved, the timeframes, and how to expedite the process where possible.
L1 Visa Overview
The L1 visa is an intra-company transfer visa, enabling multinational companies to transfer their employees from foreign offices to the United States. It is particularly useful for UK companies aiming to establish a presence in the US or to transfer multiple staff members to lead on a vital client account. There are two main categories of the L1 visa:
The L-1A visa is designed for executives and managers. Employees must oversee a significant business function and be capable of making considerable decisions without extensive input from superiors.
The L-1B visa is tailored for employees with specialized knowledge crucial to the company's products or systems. These employees must be indispensable to the organization's success.
Both categories require that the employee has been employed in an executive, managerial, or specialized knowledge role outside the US by the same company for at least one out of the three years preceding the application.
The L1 Visa Application Process
The process of acquiring an L1 visa involves several stages, each with its own potential timeframe.
Unless the employer is a very large employer with L1 blanket filing, the first step is the filing of Form I-129 by the employer on behalf of the employee. This petition should be submitted to the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) leaving plenty of time before the intended commencement of US employment. The processing of this petition may take about 2 to 4 months. Many employers use premium processing with a response time of 15 days.
After the I-129 petition has been approved by the USCIS, the employee, if outside the US (or the next time the employee leaves the US), will need to schedule an appointment at a US consulate or embassy in their country of residence to attend a visa interview. The processing time at this stage is primarily determined by the caseload of the consular post and the quality of the submission and supporting documents.
Later this year there should be in-country US visa processing for some H1B visa and L1 visa applicants and their dependents. This should make things a lot more convenient for many people. Many of the people on H1B visas and L1 visas are Indians.
L1 Visa Processing Times
Many employers will use the $2,500 premium processing service for I-129 petition applications made to USCIS within the US. Otherwise, processing times could be a number of months.. These times can vary depending on whether visa processing is required at a consular post, where the application is filed and the specific circumstances of the application.
Processing Times by Country
According to the US Department of State's global visa wait times, the processing times for L1 visas can vary greatly by location. For instance, the wait time for an interview appointment can range from a few days in some countries to several months in others.
It's crucial for UK companies looking to transfer staff to the US to consider these processing times when planning their expansion.
To expedite the L1 visa process, the USCIS offers a premium processing service for an additional fee. This service reduces the processing time of the I-129 petition to just 15 calendar days for a fee of $2500. If the USCIS fails to process the application within this timeframe, the fee will be refunded.
Despite best efforts, delays in L1 visa processing can occur. One common cause is the issuance of a Request for Evidence (RFE) by the USCIS. If the adjudicator cannot make a decision based on the initial information and evidence provided, they may pause the application and request additional information.
Common reasons for RFEs include:
- Insufficient evidence of the employee's specialized knowledge or inadequate link to the company operations
- Job description duties that do not align with similar roles in comparable US companies
- Lack of a comprehensive L1 business plan detailing the company structure and future growth. However, this is not always necessary.
- Discrepancy between the company's finances and the ability to support a new office and the L1 employee's salary
These delays highlight the importance of ensuring the application is accurate, complete, and thorough.
L1 Visa Extensions
The L1 visa is temporary and initially granted for a maximum of 3 years. It is one year for a new office. If the employee wishes to stay in the US beyond this period, a further petition must be made, which will follow the same processing times as the initial application. The extension period differs depending on the visa classification:
- L-1A visa - maximum of 7 years in total
- L-1B visa - maximum of 5 years in total
L1 Visa Easier route to US Permanent Residence
If an L1A visa is approved as a manager or executive in practice it is likely to make it easier to obtain a "Green Card". The requirements for an L1 visa for a manager or executive are similar to the requirements for an EB1C US Green Card as an International Manager or Executive. This process involves waiting for the 'priority date' to be current with the Department of State's final action dates, which are available in the monthly visa bulletin.
The premium processing service can also be used for I-140 petitions, shortening the usual six-month L1 to green card processing time to 15 calendar days. However, if you are applying from within the US you need to make an I-485 permanent residence application as well. The processing time is generally between six to eight months, and premium processing cannot be used for this part of the process.
workpermit.com helps with US Work Visa: L1, H1B, E2, and O1 Visas
There are various types of US visas that individuals can apply for, depending on their circumstances. Some of the most common employment-based visas include:
L1 visa: This visa is for intracompany transferees who work in managerial or executive positions or have specialized knowledge.
H1B visa: This visa is for specialty occupations that require theoretical or technical expertise in specialized fields.
E2 visa: This visa is for investors who have made a significant investment in a US business and, management or essential skills employees. Only certain nationalities can apply.
O1 visa: This visa is for individuals with extraordinary abilities in the arts, sciences, education, business, or athletics.
Workpermit.com is a specialist visa services firm with over thirty years of experience dealing with visa applications. For more information and advice, please contact us on 0344 991 9222 or at firstname.lastname@example.org(link sends e-mail)