“Specialized” Business Immigration: Understanding L-1B Visa Eligibility

Businesses with offices or partnerships overseas rely on being able to quickly and easily move their talented team members where they are needed most – oftentimes using the L-1 visa. For a comprehensive guide on the L visa, click here.

When these types of businesses wish to bring company executives and managers from their foreign branches to their US offices for a limited period of time, they can make use of the L-1A Intracompany Transferee visa—which you can read more about here.

However, the L-1A visa makes up only half of the L-1 visa category. There is also a second subcategory for intracompany transferees known as the L-1B visa. This visa is intended for employees who have specific specialized knowledge of the company’s products, services, or processes.

As with the L-1A visa, the L-1B is a non-immigrant visa which allows foreign employees of a company to transfer to a US affiliate office of that company for a limited period of time. All L-1 visas require that the US company must have a qualifying relationship with the foreign operation from which the employee is transferring, which can include parent companies, branches, subsidiaries, or affiliates. Additionally, the employer must be currently, or will soon be actively conducting viable business in both the US and at least one foreign country.

What is the Difference Between L-1A and L-1B Visas?

The key difference between the L-1A and the L-1B visa is to whom the visa applies. While the L-1A is used for company executives and managers, the L-1B visa applies to employees with “specialized knowledge.” But what exactly does this mean?

USCIS defines “specialized knowledge” as, “special knowledge possessed by an individual of the petitioning organization’s product, service, research, equipment, techniques, management, or other interests and its application in international markets, or an advanced level of knowledge or expertise in the organization’s processes and procedures.” To put that in layman’s terms, the employee must have some sort of unique knowledge or ability which could not easily be routinely performed by other employees within the company.

Simply being “familiar” with the company’s special processes or unique products is generally not enough to qualify as having specialized knowledge.

L-1B Eligibility Requirements

In order to be eligible for the L-1B visa—in addition to fulfilling the “specialized knowledge” requirements—the employee must have been working for a qualifying organization abroad for at least one full year within the past three years, and they must be seeking to enter the US to provide their specialized knowledge to a US company that has a qualifying relationship with his or her current employer.

In conducting his or her duties in the US, the L-1B employee cannot operate under the direction of an unaffiliated company, nor can the employee be used as work-for-hire by an unaffiliated company.

The initial duration of the L-1B employee’s stay can range from several months to 3 years depending on the employee’s country of origin. In some circumstances, the L-1B visa can be renewed for up to two years, making for a maximum stay of 5 years including renewals.

L-1B employees may also be utilized to help start a new office in the United States if their specialized knowledge is essential to doing so. In such cases, the L-1B employee’s initial stay is limited to a maximum of 1 year.

As with the L-1A visa, qualifying family members of L-1B visa holders may accompany the employee to the United States under the L-2 visa, which also allows spouses to apply for unlimited work authorization during their stay.

L-1B visas are oftentimes essential for companies that operate in both the US and abroad, or that currently operate abroad and wish to open an office in the United States. The specialized knowledge of key employees is incredibly valuable, and when you operate offices all over the world, the mobility and versatility of these employees is invaluable.

However, USCIS’s definition of specialized knowledge is not exactly clear, leaving room for subjective interpretations that could derail your business immigration efforts. Contact business immigration attorneys at FordMurray today and let us work to effectively fulfill all of your company’s L-1 visa needs.