The L-1 is a nonimmigrant visa that enables multinational companies to transfer international employees to a U.S. office. But what if your company doesn't have a U.S. office yet?
That is where new office L-1s come in! A “new office L-1” differs from an L-1 for a company with an established presence in the U.S. In this article, we'll share everything you need to know about new office L-1s.
Overview: The L-1 Nonimmigrant Visa for Executives, Managers, and Specialized Knowledge Workers
Before we go into new office L-1s, let's review what an L-1 is and who qualifies.
The L-1 visa is one of the most advantageous U.S. work visas. It allows multinational companies to bring certain employees from foreign offices to their U.S. office(s). To qualify, an employee must:
- Have worked for a foreign company with a qualifying relationship (parent, subsidiary, brand, affiliate, or sister company of your foreign company) to the U.S. company for at least one continuous year within the past three years.
- Have been employed at the foreign company in a managerial, executive, or "specialized knowledge" role and offered a similar position at the related U.S. company.
Related article: L-1 Visa Job Titles: Which Roles Qualify?
Overview: New Office L-1s
The L-1 is unique in comparison to other U.S. work visas because L-1 employers are required to have a physical office space for their L-1 employees.
If the U.S. company has been doing business for less than one year, they have to file a new office L-1 petition. In a new office petition, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) requires that L-1 employers show evidence that they have “secured sufficient physical premises'' for a U.S. office space. Because of this, new office L-1 petitions typically include more documentation than regular L-1 petitions.
There are a few other differences between new office L-1s and regular L-1s. For instance, new office L-1 visas are initially granted for one year. New office L-1 holders are expected to focus on growing the U.S. office during that time.
After the first year, L-1 holders can file for an extension. L-1 visas can be extended in three-year increments for up to five (for "specialized knowledge" workers on L-1B) or seven years (for managers or executives on L-1A).
Evidence Required for New Office L-1
Before you start your new office L-1, you should fully understand what documentation you'll be required to submit with your new office L-1 petition. Below is a summary of what you'll need to provide.
- Evidence of U.S. Formation and Registration: Your company will need to form a U.S. entity if it has not yet done so. In addition, you will need to get an EIN number, and you may need a business license, depending on the state you will operate in. You can also provide a foreign qualification certificate, if applicable. For the new office L-1 petition, you should include all of this documentation.
- Evidence of the Foreign Entity: You should expect to provide proof of the foreign entity, such as incorporation documents, business licenses, and bylaws.
- Evidence of the Foreign Entity's Regular Business Activity: This could include recent invoices, contracts, annual financial reports, tax returns, employment contracts, payroll summaries, meeting minutes, internal emails, and evidence showing the proposed operations of the U.S. office.
- Evidence of Qualifying Relationship Between U.S. Entity and Foreign Entity: You'll need to show that the foreign entity has a "qualifying relationship" with the U.S. entity. This could include stock certificates or other evidence that shows ownership and control over the U.S. entity.
- Evidence of U.S. Office Space: One of the most significant differences between L-1 visas and other U.S. work visas is that L-1 visas require physical office space in the U.S. Even in our increasingly remote world, you'll need to establish physical office space in the U.S. before filing a new office L-1. You should expect to include the following documentation in your L-1 petition: a copy of the lease or purchase agreement for office space, floor plans, photos, and a description of the office.
- U.S. Business Plan: USCIS wants to see that you intend to grow your U.S. entity. Be prepared to provide a detailed business plan for the U.S. entity.
- Organizational Charts: You'll need to include organizational charts for both foreign and U.S. entities. Each org chart should consist of the complete business hierarchy with the names and titles of each employee.
- Evidence of the Financial Capability of the U.S. Entity: USCIS will want to see that your company can pay U.S. employees and grow in the U.S. Relevant evidence could include: tax statements from the foreign entity, the foreign entity's audited balance sheets, the foreign entity's annual report, the foreign entity's bank statements, and proof of the foreign entity's ongoing financial contributions to the U.S. entity's bank account.
- Employee Documentation: You'll also be required to provide evidence information about the employee applying for the L-1 visa. Expect to include copies of their passport, educational documents, immigration documents, resume, and evidence relating to their role at the foreign entity and their proposed position at the U.S. entity.
Can L-1 visa holders work remotely?
One of the most common questions that L-1 visa holders ask is whether they can work remotely. Technically, employees on L-1 status are not required to work in their employer’s U.S. office, however, the company must have an office that the employee could work from if needed. Be certain to discuss work location with your immigration attorney if you apply for an L-1 visa.
Other Visas For Expanding Into The U.S.
Maybe the L-1 visa doesn’t sound right for you. Perhaps you just recently started your foreign company and haven’t worked there for a year. Or maybe you don’t want to set up a physical office space in the U.S. The L-1 isn’t for everyone!
Luckily, there are many different business immigration paths through which you can bring your company to the U.S. The H-1B is the most well-known U.S. work visa. The O-1 is a popular nonimmigrant visa for startup founders who are eager to expand into U.S. markets. The E-2 visa allows nationals from certain countries to work temporarily in the US. after investing in a U.S. company (such as their startup). Explore all of your options to ensure you make the best decision for your case!
Next Steps For Obtaining A New Office L-1 or Other Work Visa
The L-1 visa helps many international startups expand to the U.S. each year. Your company could be next! But if the L-1 is not the right choice for your situation, there are other U.S. visas to explore. Either way, you’ll want to work with an experienced immigration attorney to prepare a strong work visa petition. Connect with Legalpad's business immigration team to get started.