Valentines Day Gift For L-1 Visa Holders
ALTHOUGH the “L” visa does not stand for “love”, on Valentine’s Day this year, the US State Department bestowed a gift on L visa holders. As a refresher, the L-1 visa is for “intra-company” transferees. To qualify, an employee of a foreign company (big or small), can be transferred to the US to work in its US affiliate, branch, subsidiary or parent company. The transferee must have performed in either a managerial or executive position or one requiring “specialized knowledge” of the company’s products or processes. The position in the US must also be in one of these three types of positions. In addition, the transferee must have been working in such a capacity abroad for at least one out of the last three years.
The application process, once a qualifying US enterprise is established, is to file an L-1 visa petition with the USCIS in the US. That can take from 2-16 weeks or so to get an answer, depending on whether it was filed with a request to “Premium Process.” Such a request results in an answer in about two weeks as opposed to three to four months. Once the petition is approved, the assignee makes an appointment with the US Consulate in their home country and is interviewed for the visa. The spouse and unmarried children under the age of 21 will be issued L-2 visas. Upon entry to the US, an L-2 spouse can apply for a work permit which takes about 90 days to come in. The children can attend school but not work.
The L visa stamp obtained at the end of the interview at the US Consulate will be valid for an initial one year period of time if the US business is less than one year old. If it is older than one year, the validity will likely be for three years; that is prior to February 14, 2012! This “gift” from the US State Department now authorizes L visa stamps to be issued for a period valid for five years for Brits and some other nationalities. There is a “reciprocity” schedule that indicates the new visa validity period under this change. It is based on how other countries treat similarly situated Americans seeking to work in their countries. L visa stamps for Brazilians or Chinese, for example, will only be issued for two years.
It is important to understand the distinction between the validity period indicated on one’s I-94 card (entry document) and the validity period indicated on one’s visa stamp. The former regulates the amount of time one can lawfully remain in the US in that visa status. Status extensions can be applied for by mail. There is no need to extend a visa stamp for one to extend one’s status in the US. However, once a nonimmigrant (an L-1 in this example) departs the US, one must look in one’s passport to see how one will seek to reenter the US. If one has a valid visa stamp in one’s passport, they are good to go. If the visa stamp has expired, one must apply for a new visa stamp. This is where the benefit of this rule change comes in. Since visa stamps will now be valid for a full five year period, L-1 visa holders will have to apply for second or even third visa stamps far fewer times and fewer interactions with any government office is a good thing.
Mitch Wexler is a Partner with the international immigration law firm, Fragomen, Del Rey, Bernsen & Loewy, LLP, resident out of its Irvine, CA office. He is a Specialist in immigration & nationality law, certified by the State Bar of California, Board of Legal Specialization. Mitch has been practicing immigration law for over 25 years and welcomes all queries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article was first published in March 2012