Canadian citizens may apply for L-1 nonimmigrant visa status directly with U.S. Customs and Border Protection (“CBP”) at many U.S. land or air ports-of-entry. This convenient process saves time and money by bypassing both the burdensome adjudication process with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (“USCIS”) and the visa issuance process with the U.S. Department of State. Even though the process is convenient, there are potential pitfalls that Canadian citizens and the U.S. companies seeking to employ them must watch out for even after the case is approved.
1. Caution regarding travel outside the U.S. anywhere other than Canada or Mexico for two months after admission: After the L-1 petition is approved at the border, the Canadian citizen is admitted into the U.S. with an admission stamp, and copies of the approval and petition are forwarded to a USCIS Service Center. The Service Center inputs case information into their system, assigns a receipt number, and issues receipt and approval notices – Forms I-797. The entry stamp the Canadian citizen receives upon admission is valid for travel into Canada or Mexico, but the physical Form I-797 is likely to be requested by CBP when the Canadian citizen returns to the U.S. from travel to any country other than Canada and Mexico. Failure to provide CBP with the Form I-797 when applying to re-enter the U.S. after travel outside of Canada and Mexico is likely to result in significant delay at the U.S. port of entry, potentially including several hours waiting in secondary inspection. It is presently taking between four-eight weeks for the I-797 issuance process, so Canadian citizens entering the U.S. in L-1 status should try to avoid traveling outside of Canada or Mexico for up to two months until they have the I-797. If travel cannot be avoided for two months, we recommend routing any return travel to the U.S. through Canada, where you can apply for admission into the U.S. at pre-flight inspection. The CBP officers in Canada are more knowledgeable and less likely to require the Form I-797.
2. Non-Canadian family members may not be able to enter the U.S. in L-2 Dependent visa status for more than two months: All non-Canadians need an L visa to enter the U.S. in L status, as Canadian Citizens are the only foreign nationals not required to obtain an L visa to enter the U.S. in L status. Non-Canadian spouses and children of L-1 Canadian citizens may enter the U.S. in L-2 dependent visa status, but they must first obtain an L-2 visa at a U.S. consulate. Applying for an L-2 visa at a consulate abroad requires completing an online form DS-160, which in turn requires a USCIS receipt number. Unfortunately, the only way to obtain the USCIS receipt number following a Border L-1 application is to wait for the USCIS to receive the case from CBP, generate the receipt number, and send the I-797 receipt notice back to the employer or attorney. Non-Canadian family members of Canadian L-1 Border applicants can expect to wait four to eight weeks for I-797 processing in addition to the standard Visa Wait Times at consulates abroad, which can take anywhere from three days to one month, before entering the U.S. in L-2 dependent status.
Posted by: Andy Finkle, Associate Attorney