If you work outside the United States, an L-1 visa enables you to come to this country to work for your employer at its U.S. office. But the L-1 visa is not without limitations. It is only available to certain types of employees -- and allows you to remain in the states only for a limited time. You must leave before your L-1 visa expires unless you obtain a green card, which grants permanent residency to immigrants. With a green card, you can live and work in the states permanently.
L-1 Visas for Managers, Executives and Those with Specialized Knowledge
U.S. employers interested in transferring an employee from an affiliated office abroad to one in the states may apply to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services for an L-1 visa on the employee's behalf -- you cannot apply for your own L-1 visa. If you work as an executive or manager, USCIS will issue you an L-1A visa; however, if you're an employee with specialized knowledge, you'll receive an L-1B visa instead. Additionally, you must have worked for your employer for at least one of the past three years and intend to perform the same duties in the United States as you did abroad. You can also qualify for an L-1 visa if you're coming to the states to establish an office for a foreign business.
L-1 Visas Limited to a Maximum Stay of Seven Years
Once you're granted an L-1 visa, it remains valid for three years, unless you're coming to the states to open a U.S. office, in which case your visa is only valid for one year. However, you can ask to extend your stay beyond the initial period. USCIS grants extensions in two-year increments until your total stay reaches seven years if your visa is an L-1A visa, or five years if you have an L-1B visa.
Dual Intent Rule Doesn't Apply to L-1 Visas
To remain in the states permanently, you can apply to convert your status from an L-1 visa holder to that of legal permanent resident. Typically, immigrants who are in this country legally for a limited time on temporary visas are not eligible for a green card based on the "dual intent" doctrine of U.S. immigration law. This doctrine prohibits foreign citizens from using a temporary visa to enter the United States legally to pursue their primary objective of seeking permanent residency once here. As a result, those with temporary visas can't apply for green cards, but L-1 visa holders are exempt from this rule.
L-1 Visa Holders Granted Priority Status for Green Cards
If you have an L-1 visa, you can apply for a green card via a two-part process. First, your employer submits Form I-140, Petition for Alien Worker, to USCIS. If you're a manager or executive, your application is granted first priority. If you have an L-1B visa, your employer must file both Form I-140 and a labor certification, which proves a lack of qualified workers in the states who can perform your job. Next, you submit Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residency or Adjust Status, to USCIS. Then, you must provide your fingerprints for a background check and attend an interview with USCIS personnel. USCIS will notify you of its decision by mail.