The L-1 and E-2 visas both enable foreign nationals to live and work in the United States. But the requirements for these two nonimmigrant visas differ significantly.
L-1 Intercompany Transferee Visa and E-2 Investor Visa Compared
An Introduction to U.S. Work Visas
Although many other countries are flexible regarding accepting remote workers on tourist visas, U.S. immigration is strict. You need legal work authorization to work in the U.S., whether self-employed, for a foreign company, or for a U.S. employer. Working without a work visa or other forms of legal employment authorization in the U.S. is considered a violation of status. It can make it difficult to enter the U.S. initially or become a permanent resident in the future.
Now that we have established the importance of maintaining legal status in the U.S., let's explore the different types of U.S. work visas. The most well-known U.S. work visa is the H-1B. Another well-known visa is the O-1 for individuals with extraordinary ability. Some country-specific visas include the TN for Mexican and Canadian professionals and the E-2 for Australians. The visas we will explore in this article include the E2 status for investors and L1 status for intracompany transfers. The E-2 and L-1 tend to be overlooked by foreign nationals and U.S. employers, but they are both worth exploring.
First, let's define a few key immigration terms.
⭐️ Petition: In U.S. immigration, this term typically refers to an immigration application that is reviewed by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS).
⭐️ Petitioning employer: Refers to the U.S. company that sponsors a work visa application. Typically, the visa holder is only allowed to work for their petitioning employer.
⭐️ Visa holder: A foreign national who has obtained a visa.
Advantages and Limitations of E-2 and L-1 Nonimmigrant Visas
✅ L-1 visa advantages ✅
- U.S work authorization: L-1 visa holders can work for their petitioning employer in the U.S.
- Work authorization for spouses: Spouses of L-1 visa holders can work for any U.S. company while accompanying their spouse in the U.S.
- Easy pathway to a green card: The L-1 is a dual intent visa, which means there is a direct path to permanent residency. In addition, the L-1A requirements closely resemble the EB-1C requirements, making it easy for L-1A visa holders to pursue a green card.
- Blanket petitions for larger employers: Companies that employ over 1,000 U.S. workers, have combined revenue of $25 million, or have more than 10 L-1s approved in a calendar year can file a single petition for numerous employees, making employee transfers more efficient.
⛔️ Limitations of the L-1 ⛔️
- Requires a physical office space: One of the most significant differences between the L-1 and other U.S. work visas is that the L-1 requires applicants to work from a company office in the U.S.
- High RFE rates for new office L-1s: If the petitioning company has never filed an L-1 before, they must file a "new office L-1" petition. New office L-1 petitions have relatively high Request for Additional Evidence (RFE) rates. An RFE does not guarantee a denial but can slow the overall process by a few months.
- Limited validity: The L-1A is valid for a maximum of seven years, and the L-1B is valid for a maximum of five years.
- Only possible for certain companies and employees: While the simplicity of the L-1 criteria is an advantage, it also limits which types of companies and employees can qualify.
✅ E-2 treaty investor visa advantages ✅
- U.S work authorization: E-2 visa holders can work for their petitioning employer in the U.S.
- Unlimited status extensions: The E-2 provides initial status for 2-5 years and can be extended indefinitely.
- Work authorization for spouses: Spouses of E-2 visa holders can work for any U.S. company while accompanying their spouse in the U.S.
- Flexible investment amount: The main E-2 requirement is to invest in a U.S. company, but the minimum investment amount varies based on the type of company.
- Available for any U.S. company: Unlike the L-1, there are no limitations to the type of company that can sponsor an E-2 visa, as long as it is a legal U.S. company.
- High approval rates: The E-2 has historically high approval ratings nationwide (92%).
⛔️ Limitations of the E-2 ⛔️
- Investment required: The E-2 requires you to make a "substantial" investment in a U.S. business, which can prevent some immigrants from obtaining the E-2 visa.
- More challenging to get a green card: While the path to permanent residency is straightforward for L-1 visa holders, there are a few more challenges for L-1 holders who wish to become lawful permanent residents.
L-1 and E-2 Visa Eligibility
The most significant difference between the L-1 and E-2 is their criteria.
L-1 Visa Requirements
The L-1 petitioning employer must ⬇️
- Have a qualifying relationship with a company in a foreign country, such as a parent, a subsidiary, a branch, an affiliate, or a sister company;
- Be doing business in both the U.S. and at least one other country for the duration of the employee's stay in the U.S. as an L-1;
- Have (or be willing to establish) a physical office space in the U.S. where the L-1 employee will work.
To qualify for L-1, the employee ⬇️
- Must have been working for the company abroad for one continuous year within the three years immediately before admission to the U.S.; and
- Will work in an executive or managerial role (L-1A visa) or specialized knowledge (L-1B visa) capacity for the same company in the U.S.
E-2 Visa Requirements
The E-2 petitioning employer must ⬇️
- 🇺🇸 Be a legal U.S. company; and
- Be 50% or more owned by citizens of your country of citizenship, which must be an E-2 treaty country.
To be eligible for the E-2 visa, you must ⬇️
- Be a citizen of an E-2 treaty country;
- Invest a substantial investment of your own money into the petitioning company; and
- Be the owner, executive/manager, or otherwise essential to the successful operation of your business.
Final Thoughts: L-1 vs. E-2 🤔
Although the L-1 and E-2 are very different visas, they both allow foreign nationals to work for a U.S. company. If you want to live and work in the U.S., either visa can get you there. But if you're uncertain which visa option is best, start the conversation with a qualified immigration law expert today.