L-1 nonimmigrant visa status is a great tool for multinational companies seeking to transfer executives, managers, and highly specialized employees from overseas offices to the U.S. The L-1 has come under heavy scrutiny in the past decade with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS), leaving many U.S. employers frustrated, and seeking faster, more efficient option to get vital employees into the U.S. Before moving past the L-1, multinational companies with a substantial U.S. presence would do well to consider an L-1 blanket to speed up transfers.
Individual L-1 Petition
A U.S. employer needs to prove three key elements to obtain an approval from USCIS for a traditional, “individual” L-1 visa petition. First, the company must prove a qualifying relationship between the two business entities that have employed and will employ the foreign national – the U.S. company must be the parent/subsidiary/affiliate/branch of the foreign company. The other two elements concern the foreign national whose transfer to the United States is sought: the work s/he will perform in the U.S. must be in an executive, managerial, or specialized knowledge capacity, and s/he has recently worked for the overseas company for at least one year in an executive, managerial, or specialized knowledge capacity. All elements must be satisfied on every individual L-1 visa petition submitted to USCIS.
L-1 Blanket Petition
An L-1 “blanket” petition is different in that it separates the corporate qualifying relationship from the foreign national’s qualifications. Instead of filing an individual L-1 petition, the company files an L-1 blanket petition with USCIS establishing all of the desired corporate relationships in its global organization. Every related company may be listed in this petition for inclusion in the blanket. The approval notice for an L-1 blanket petition is for the company, and not an individual. The approval attaches a list of all of the approved qualifying relationships. It is approved initially for three years, and can be extended for an indefinite period. The blanket only needs to be amended when there is a change in the related companies or their ownership relationships.
Once a company has an approved L-1 blanket petition, it streamlines the individual employee’s process for obtaining an L-1 visa. The company can skip the filing of an individual L-1 petition with USCIS altogether. Instead, the employer applies directly at the U.S. consulate abroad. The employee takes to the U.S. consulate the L-1 petition demonstrating that the employee and the proposed U.S. job meet the requirements for L-1 status. The U.S. consulate does not need to consider the qualifying corporate relationship, but simply confirm that both the foreign and U.S. companies are listed on the addendum to the approved L-1 blanket petition for the company.
A U.S. company is eligible to file for an L-1 blanket petition when the company:
- is engaged in commercial trade or service;
- has an office that has been doing business in the U.S. for at least one year;
- has three or more domestic and foreign branches, subsidiaries, or affiliates; and
- meets one of the three “size” requirements:
- the company and other qualifying U.S. entities have obtained ten prior individual “L” approvals in the past 12 months; or
- have U.S. subsidiaries or affiliates with combined annual sales of at least $25 million; or
- have a U.S. work force of at least 1,000 employees.
An L-1 employee may transfer to the U.S. using a blanket much FASTER than under an individual L-1 petition and without the needless repetition of proving the same corporate relationships time and again. Once the L-1 blanket is approved by USCIS, the future U.S. employee can skip past USCIS adjudication of the petition and pass to the end of the process (requesting an L-1 visa stamp at the U.S. consulate) by demonstrating s/he has worked for the company for one of the last three years abroad in a qualifying role and will be performing a qualifying role in the U.S.
While consulates perform a complete review of each L-1 petition, they place much LESS SCRUTINY (traditionally) on each L-1 application than USCIS. This makes the information gathering process in advance of the submission easier, and removes the dreaded potential delay caused by a USCIS request for evidence.
Unlike an individual L-1B specialized knowledge case filed to USCIS, the L-1 blanket procedure can only be used when the employee holds a professional level bachelor’s degree. The L-1 blanket does not bar the U.S. company from employing these candidates, but for intracompany transferees who do not hold bachelor level degrees, the company must still file the individual L-1 petition with USCIS. Only after it gets approved by USCIS can the individual apply for the L-1 visa at the U.S. consulate abroad.
The L-1 interview at the U.S. consulate is the only opportunity for the employee to make his/her case for the L-1 visa. Consular officers vary in interview technique and some consulates are more strict (e.g. China, India) than others. Accordingly, employees will need to be well prepared in advance – more prepared than if the L-1 was approved previously by USCIS.
Posted by: Andy Finkle, Associate Attorney