The L-1 visa and H-1B visa are both employment-based non-immigrant visas with recognition as dual intent, or allowance to enter the U.S. while simultaneously seeking a green card. The L-1 visa is an internal permit for a foreign employee of an international company. The H-1B visa allows foreign workers to work in specialty occupations for qualified sponsoring employers in the United States. What this means is that an L-1 visa must be sponsored by a current employer while an H-1 may be sponsored by a prospective employer before employment begins.
|Eligibility||Individuals with bachelor’s or 12 years work experience in specialized knowledge, or combinations of education & experience, who hold job offers from US companies.||Multinational, or companies having a foreign presence are enabled to internally transfer employees with managerial or executive level (L-1A), or specialized knowledge (L-1B), to the U.S. parent, branch, affiliate or subsidiary.|
|Work Restrictions||Can only work for sponsoring institution in a specialty field (e.g. architecture, business, medicine, law)||A qualifying relationship needs to exist between the U.S. business entity and foreign company located abroad.|
|Length of Validity||Issued for 3 years, but can be extended upto 6 years.||Three years, with extension up to 7 years for L-1A, and 5 years for L-1B.|
|Limits||65,000 per year, with exemptions for up to 20,000 individuals with higher degrees from US universities.||No limit on L-1 visa number available in a year.|
|When to Apply||Applications open on first business day in April||Any time|
|How to Apply||Sponsoring company must submit form I-129 (petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker) to USCIS.||Applicant’s employer must submit I-129 form to USCIS, with documentation to show the U.S. company and foreign parent, subsidiary, affiliate or branch meet qualifications.|
|Cost||Approx. $2,000||$825, and possibly $2,250 additional|
|Restrictions for Spouse||Uneligible to work or apply for EAD on H-4 (as dependent of H-1B) visa.||Eligible to apply for EAD in order to work on L-2 (dependent of L-1) visa.|
For an employer to be eligible to sponsor an L-1 visa, a qualifying relationship must exist between the U.S. Company and foreign company abroad, as a branch, parent, subsidiary, or affiliate. For the entire time the U.S. employee is employed, both the foreign company and U.S. company must remain operational and maintain their relationship with each other.
The H-1B visa gives U.S. companies the allowance to employ workers from overseas in specialty occupations, requiring technical expertise in specialized fields, like architecture, engineering, software, mathematics, science, or medicine.
Only companies that are multinational, or having a foreign presence, may file L-1 visas. Also only the foreign company’s parent, subsidiary, affiliate, or branch may file for aliens that satisfy one year of work, within the last three years, in a managerial, executive, or specialty capacity.
The H-1B visa rewards a worker with employment by a specific, visa-sponsoring company. Without work at this company, the worker is required to either find a new sponsoring company or to leave the U.S.
Length of Work
Three years for an L-1, if the intent is to join an existing company, or one year if joining a newly established company. Extensions are allowed in two-year increments, for a maximum period of seven years if L-1A, and five years if L-1B.
Initial time with an H-1B visa is three years. Extensions are available for up to six years. Another three year can be added for a worker to stay, if there is a successful I-140 Immigrant Petition filed to become a permanent resident prior to the 6-year deadline.
There are no limits on the numbers of L-1 visas available to qualified foreign nationals each year. The H-1B annual limitation is 65,000, with 20,000 of these visas are available for new U.S. conferred graduates of at least a master’s degree, or for those working at a U.S. non-profit research institution or a university. A further 6,800 are reserved for Chile and Singapore applicants within specific programs.
When and How to Apply
Renewal and extension of L-1 status may be done in the U.S. Filings require new I-129 petition submittal, except for employers with blanket petitions. Qualified larger companies that transfer large employee counts to the U.S. may seek use of blanket petitions, and subsequently save lots of filing time. U.S. based renewal is for status only, not a visa renewal, which is done abroad. A valid L-1 visa is required for U.S. re-entry. This video explains the requirements and eligibility of an L-1 visa:
To acquire an H-1B visa, the company that is sponsoring the applicant must receive certification from the Department of Labor. With receipt of this certification, next an I-129 form is filed with the USCIS. Once this has been approved, the worker must apply for a visa with their local US embassy. H-1B applications begin being available from the first business day in April, and are attainable until the cap is filled. Entering the U.S. using a valid H-1B visa is relatively direct. However, a renewal for an H-1B requires a new visa stamp abroad.
In the following video, Robert Perkins, an immigration attorney, provides an overview of the H1-B visa, its pros and cons, and how to apply for one:
Green Card Options
Individuals waiting for a green card can choose to stay in the U.S. on an H-1 visa, or pursue the L-1 visa, with consideration of the following:
- H-1B visa holders can still remain in the country legally and continue to work on H-1B status despite their green card application having been rejected.
- L-1A visa holders can file for employment based category green cards, avoiding the filing Perm labor certification, as required for the L-1B visa. The theory is L-1A visa holders cannot be substituted by U.S. workers.
- Employers of H-1B visa holders seeking a green card are required to file the Perm labor certification.
- Spouses of L-1 visa holders, or holders of L-2 visas, may seek work through attainment of an employment authorization document, or EAD. H4 visa holders, or the spouses of H-1 visa holders, cannot attain an EAD and subsequently cannot work.