L-1 Visa: Transferring Employees From Overseas for Work in the U.S.
By Michael Wildes Managing Partner, Wildes and Weinberg PC | May 08, 2011
Few industries can boast the worldliness of the hospitality industry. As hotels and lodges seek out tourist hubs and travel spots worldwide, the industry has largely trended toward international expansion. Today Americans can travel to any corner of the globe and find a hotel brand that they know and trust.
Just as the industry's patrons are traveling now more than ever, employees, too, are increasingly being transferred from one overseas location to another. When certain requirements are met, employees from the international office of one company can be transferred to a domestic office with relative ease courtesy of the L-1 intra-company transfer visa.
In particular, we are aware of one major, international hotel chain that has a smart, established practice of bringing interested employees to the United States as J-1 visa trainees. The trainees spend a year becoming familiar with the company's signature practices, then return to an office abroad in a management capacity to implement the skills they have learned. If the company wishes for them to return to the United States, the employees are well positioned to become L-1 visa intracompany transfers, for reasons that will be outlined below. Such programs attract motivated job candidates, offer upwardly-mobile career paths and build a well-trained job corps for the hotel. For other hotels large enough to do so, taking advantage of the L-1 visa program is a winning move.
Who is eligible?
In order for an intracompany employee transfer to qualify for an L-1 visa, a qualifying relationship must first be established between the U.S. and the overseas entity. According to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS), the overseas office must be a parent company, branch, affiliate, subsidiary or joint venture of the American entity. Given the nature of the hospitality industry, satisfying this requirement should pose little difficulty, with the exception of boutique hotels and some lodges.
Only certain employees are eligible for L-1 visa classification. They must be either managers, executives or "specialized knowledge" employees. Managers and executives apply for L-1A visas and professionals possessing "specialized knowledge" apply for L-1B visas. USCIS considers specialized knowledge to consist of proprietary skills, knowledge and/or experience of a company's procedures, systems or services. Specialized knowledge might include a hotel's unique guest offerings, or experience working with a proprietary software system.
In order to transfer a foreign employee to a U.S. office, the employee must have worked in the capacity of executive, manager, or employee with specialized knowledge for the foreign entity at least one year during the three years preceding the filing. Unlike the H-1B specialty worker visa, there is no annual limit-or "cap"-on the number of L-1 visas granted per fiscal year.
L-1 Validity Periods