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US Immigration: L-1 Visa Update

In recent years in the US, demand for H-1B visas for graduate level work exceeds the 85,000 annual quota for this type of visa. Tens of thousands of potential visa applicants hoping to come under the H-1B visa find they are unable to do so. Fortunately, migrants who have worked for one year in the last three years for an overseas business may be eligible for a transfer to the US on an L-1 intra-company transfer visa.

Between 2009 and 2013 there was an average of 68,000 L-1 visas issued per year. More could be issued as there is no annual visa quota.

There are two types of L-1 visas. They are:

  • L-1A for managers and executives
  • L-1B for workers with 'specialised knowledge' relating to the company

L-1 visas are valid for an initial period of one to three years. For a new US office an initial one year period is usually granted. Applicants can extend their visas for two years at a time, up to a maximum of seven years for L-1A visa holders, and five years for L-1B visas.

The H-1B visa allows US companies to recruit graduate level overseas workers within specialty occupations. Applicants must meet certain education requirements, and have a specific job offer from a US-based company, who will 'sponsor' the applicant to come to the US. The employer will petition the USCIS in the US, and then once the petition is granted the employee can apply for the visa.

H-1B visas are granted for an initial period of three years, and can be extended up to a maximum period of six years; there is an annual limit of 85,000 visas (65,000 visas for those with bachelors degrees, plus an additional 20,000 for workers with higher degrees from US universities.) The annual application cycle begins in April each year.

Criticism

There has been recent criticism of the L-1 visa, which is frequently favoured by US employers over the H-1B visa, as there is no particular salary requirement, and there is no annual cap. Critics say that this visa is used to bring in low-paid foreign workers, which is driving down wages for US employees.

Daniel Costa, director of immigration law at the Economic Policy Institute says that 'employers have a huge financial incentive to hire an L-1 worker instead of an American or an H-1B, and no law requires them to be audited or investigated.'

Costa also points out that while the H-1B visa regulations specify that employers must pay a 'prevailing' wage, there is no such requirement for the L-1 visa, which employers use to transfer in hundreds of thousands of foreign workers, particularly in the tech industry.

However this criticism may be unjustified; the L-1 visa is used extensively in the IT and tech industries, which generally pay very well. There are large numbers of foreign migrants in the IT industry and in other industries that are paid high salaries. In fact probably many L-1 visa holders earn higher salaries than are paid to most US workers.

Executive Action

President Obama is making some changes in his 'executive action' on immigration. He has promised to streamline the L-1 visa process for foreign workers.

Obama said that 'The Department of Homeland Security will clarify its guidance on temporary L-1 visas for foreign workers who transfer from a company's foreign office to its US office. The Department of Labor will take regulatory action to modernize the labour market test that is required of employers that sponsor foreign workers for immigrant visas while ensuring that American workers are protected.'

Sanwar Ali, of Workpermit.com says that 'Obama's 'streamlining' of the L-1 visa process will hopefully make it easier for applicants and their employers in the US."

Workpermit.com has a number of US immigration guides detailing work and business related US visa categories. These include guides on the H-1B visa and L-1 visa categories, as well as the B-1/B-2 visit visa, E-1 Treaty Trader, and E-2 Treaty Investor visa categories. We also cover US green cards (permanent immigrant visas). All applications for US visas are dealt with in-house by an US qualified immigration lawyer.