Frequently Asked Questions: Visas, Green Cards & Immigration Law
As a result of assisting hundreds of immigration clients with various visa matters in past years, our immigration lawyers have compiled a list of frequently asked questions. Be sure to check back often as this list is continually updated. Still have a question? Contact us today to speak with an experienced immigration law attorney.
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I am already in the U.S. under a different type of visa. Can I switch from a visitor, student or H-1 work visa to an L-1 visa from here, or do I have to leave the country? Related Links:
There are many reasons you may wish to switch your visa classification. Perhaps you have been promoted within your company and qualify for an L-1 visa based on your expert knowledge. Additionally, the L-1 visa can be transitioned into a green card, while the H-1 visa does not have an immigration option.
The short answer is that you can indeed file for a change in visa status without leaving the country. However, you will not physically receive a new visa until you have left and reentered the U.S., since the document is provided by a U.S. consulate upon reentry.
Steps for Switching From an H-1 to an L-1 Visa if You Are Already in the United States:
- File a change of status request. USCIS requires that all non-immigrant visa holders file Form I-539 (Application to Extend / Change Nonimmigrant Status) to request an L-1 Visa.
- If your application is approved, you will receive a notification from USCIS that your status has changed and you may stay in the U.S. under your new visa L visa status.
- You will not receive your new L-1 visa until you reenter the United States. If you obtains a change of status, and later travel abroad, you must then go to the consulate of the foreign country to have your new visa issued to you.
Before you can successfully switch from an H-1 visa to an L-1 visa, you will need to determine if you meet the qualifications of the L-1 employment category.
I am coming to set up a new business in the US. How long can I stay if I apply for an L-1A visa?
It depends. First, you must discover if you are eligible for the L-1A visa program. In order to set up a new branch of business for your company under the L-1 visa, you must first:
- Have been employed by and actively working for a qualifying organization in a foreign country for twelve continuous months within a three-year period immediately preceding your admission to the United States, and
- Seek to enter the United States expressly to provide service for a branch of the same employer (or one of its affiliated organizations) in a managerial or executive capacity
If you are qualified to come to the US to serve in a managerial position, your company may apply for L-1A visa status on your behalf. Once you are approved, there are a few limitations on your visa to take note of:
- Employees entering the US to establish new company offices will be granted a maximum initial stay of one year. Other employees may be granted stays of up to three years
- Extension requests may be granted in increments not to exceed two years
- All L-1A employees are limited to a maximum residence of seven years
If you wish to stay in the US any longer than the seven-year limit, you may be able to transition your visa into a green card.
There are many types of L-1 visa. How do I know which one I qualify for?
There are many ways employees can come to the U.S. under the L-1 visa. For instance, workers may hold either L-1A or L-1B status. L-1A applies to executives and managers and is valid for up to 7 years. L-1B is reserved for workers with specialized knowledge, and is valid for residency up to 5 years.
In addition to these two categories, there are also two types of L-1 procedures:
- Regular L-1 visas. This is the typical application route for singular employees. The company must file a petition with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services for each worker it wishes to send to the U.S., and each visa must be approved individually.
- Blanket L-1 visas. These visas are only available to certain qualified employers, and involves the USCIS issuing one Intracompany Transferee visa to all of the company’s individuals. Visa applicants must file a copy of the approved blanket petition and provide documents supporting their qualifications to the consulate or embassy that has jurisdiction over their U.S. residence.
In order to choose which visa is right for you, it is important to determine what path you will take after your visa expires. After the L-1 visa residency term of 5-7 years, employees may only qualify for L-1 status again by returning to their home countries for at least one year under employment of the parent company.
Can My Spouse And Children Come With Me If I Have An L-1 Visa?
Yes, your spouse and minor children may travel with you to the United States if you have a valid L-1 visa. However, they must apply for an L-2 visa for dependents to legally accompany you to America.
The L-2 visa is meant for the dependents of an L-1 visa holder: the husband or wife of the worker as well as any of their unmarried children under the age of 21. L-2 visa holders have a number of privileges: they can study in the United States without acquiring a F-1 visa for students and they can travel freely in the United States and the world.
The spouse of a L-1 visa holder is allowed to work as long as they attain an Employment Authorization Card from US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). These cards must be renewed every two years.
An L-2 visa is good for as long as the L-1 visa of the spouse or parent remains valid. The L-1 visa is a non-immigration visa that is valid for five to seven years.
The L-1 Visa Process Explained
If you are applying for an L-1 employment visa, you will likely have to file a lot of forms and stand in many lines before your application is complete. Our San Francisco immigration lawyers offer a general timeline of what you can expect before your L-1 visa is approved.
Here are the steps to filing an L-1 visa application to work in California
- Form I-129 submission. The parent company must file an L-1 visa petition (Form I-129) with the U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS), along with supporting documents proving that both the U.S. company and the foreign affiliate branch meet the qualifications for L-1 classification.
- Form I-797 approval. If your Form I-129 is approved, the USCIS will issue a Notice of Action (Form I-797), stating that your application is valid. However, approval of the visa petition does not guarantee that a visa will be issued; the petitioner must take Form I-797 to the United States consulate or embassy in his home country to submit for visa approval.
- L-1 visa approval. The consular officer will evaluate your petition to ensure that you meet the employment qualifications and that the U.S. company and the foreign affiliate are legitimate businesses eligible for L-1 transfers.
- L-2 visa applications. If your L-1 visa is approved, you may submit L-2 visa applications at the consulate for your family members. Your spouse and unmarried children (under age 21) may accompany you. Your children may attend school but cannot work in the U.S.; your spouse may accept any legal employment of his or her choosing.
Although the L-1 is considered a non-immigration visa, there are no restrictions on an applicant having dual intent. This means L-1 applicants cannot be denied visas if they eventually intend to immigrate to the United States. At Jatoi & de Kirby, APC, we can help you transform your visa into a green card, allowing you and your family to stay in the U.S. indefinitely.
The L-1 visa for intercompany transfers is an important employment-based visa option, especially for businesses who want to start up a United States subsidiary or bring in skilled managers or executives from abroad to work in their American offices. However, how do you know if the L-1 visa is the best option when it comes to work-related visas? Let’s take a closer look at its benefits by comparing it to a few other common options:
L-1 Visa Versus the H-1B Skilled Worker Visa
There are a number of similarities between the L-1 visa and the H-1B visa, which allows American and international companies to bring highly skilled workers to the United States for employment. However, the L-1 visa does have several advantages: an L-1 worker does not need a degree, an L-1 company does not have to prove that a U.S. worker could not fill the position, and an L-1 visa does not have an annual quota.
L-1 Visa Versus the E-2 Treaty Investor Visa
Some business-minded immigrants can choose between the L-1 visa and the E-2 visa. The E-2 visa is also tailored for businesspeople that want to expand a business or open a new business in the United States. However, to qualify for an E-2 visa, the foreigner must originate from a country that has a treaty with the U.S. In addition, you must invest a substantial amount in your business and your business must have a positive impact on the American economy. Finally, you must make your investment before the visa petition is finalized.
L-1 Visa Versus the B-1 Temporary Investor Visa
While both of these visas are designed for foreign workers who need to travel to the United States to conduct important business, the L-1 visa has several advantages over the B-1 visa. While a B visa can give you the opportunity to set up or do business here, B visas are meant for a temporary stay in the country – an initial six-month time period that may be extended another six months. A B visa also requires you to prove that you have the funds to stay in the U.S. for months at a time, but prevents you from becoming an employee during your visit. While both L-1 visas and B-1 visas are non-immigration visas, the B-1 visa requires that you do not have intentions or interest in moving to America and that you have a home that you are keeping overseas.
How can a San Francisco L visa lawyer show proof of an affiliate business relationship for purposes of an L-1 visa?
The L-1 visa is important to companies conducting business outside of the United States, as it allows the foreign entity to open a United States subsidiary and transfer managers and executives to operate the U.S. business. Employees of the foreign corporation can obtain an L-1 visa if the corporation has a related branch, subsidiary, affiliate or joint venture partners.
Contact an L visa lawyer in San Francisco for assistance if you are looking to show proof of an affiliate business relationship, as this is complicated. There is no direct relationship between the foreign corporation and the affiliate. Instead, both are controlled by a third party, which may include another company, group of companies, an individual or a group of people.
If you are looking to apply for an L-visa in the San Francisco area, our attorneys can assist you in showing proof of an affiliate business relationship if:
- An individual or business entity owns at least 50% of the U.S. company and 50% of the non-U.S. company; or
- If there is more than one single entity, each owner of the non-U.S. company owns the U.S. company in the same percentages.
For additional information about the L-1 visa, order our free book The Business Owner’s Guide To: United States Residency via the L-1 Visa.