The L-1 visa is a nonimmigrant (temporary) solution for companies looking to transfer foreign personnel to a subsidiary or parent company in the United States. It is used by multinational companies that need to relocate personnel to manage specific projects. The L-1 visa is only available to managers/executives and employees with “specialized knowledge.” Specialized knowledge refers to an employee having advanced knowledge about the company and how its products or services operate in the international markets.
L-1 Visa Basics
L-1 visa holders may take their minor children and spouses with them to the United States. Spouses may work in the United States. Furthermore, unlike seasonal workers, L-1 workers do not have to prove they are not going to try to remain in the United States permanently. The L-1 visa grants admittance for up to five or seven years. Even though the L-1 visa is temporary, employers can and often do apply simultaneously for their workers to receive permanent status.
Justification for the L-1 Visa Program
The L-1 visa program was created in 1970 in response to the 1965 immigration reform, which capped the number of permanent immigrants from developed countries. Because of the cap, corporations were unable to move workers between their various operations quickly. The problem was acute in Canada, where U.S. workers were granted easy residence, but Canadians were required to wait up to a year for visa approval. Accordingly, the L-1 program was enacted to ensure that foreign countries did not retaliate against U.S. companies bringing American workers abroad.
How the L-1 Compares to the H-1B and Other Visas
The L-1 visa, unlike many other visas, is not subject to caps. Corporations can bring as many workers as they need from abroad so long as the worker meets the L-1 visa requirements. As the approval of H-1B visas declined, the number of L-1 visa approvals increased. From 2007 to 2019, over 60,000 L-1 visas were approved, on average, per year.
Part of the reason L-1 visas are not subject to numerical limits is that this program permits access to workers who are already employed by the corporation. Furthermore, these workers are granted visas because they possess specialized information about the sponsoring company. Therefore, it would be illogical to force corporations to search the U.S. job market for workers to hire who have specialized knowledge about the company.