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O-1 Visa vs. L-1 Visa

The L-1 visa, often overlooked by foreign entrepreneurs launching U.S. operations, is another pathway for startup founders to build businesses in the U.S., but what are the key differences between the O-1 and L-1?

Comparing the L-1 Visa for ‘intracompany transferees’ to the O-1 Visa for 'Aliens of Extraordinary Ability'

The L-1 is a nonimmigrant classification (i.e. temporary work visa) that allows a U.S. employer to transfer an executive, manager or specialized knowledge professionals from one of its affiliated foreign offices to one of its offices in the U.S. or to establish a new office in the U.S. In other words, the L-1 visa enables companies to temporarily relocate an executive, manager, or worker with specialized knowledge to live and work in the U.S.

For startup founders who do not yet qualify as an O-1 “Alien of Extraordinary Ability” or who desire work authorization for their spouse, the L-1 is an alternative option for U.S. work authorization. 

The benefits of the L-1 include:
  • U.S. Work Authorization.
  • Your spouse and unmarried children under the age of 21 are eligible for L-2 nonimmigrant classification. The L-2 status provides your spouse with work authorization in the United States.
  • The L-1 offers a direct path to permanent residency.
The limitations of the L-1 include:
  • The L-1A is only valid for a maximum of 7 years, and the L-1B is only valid for a maximum of 5 years.
  • A majority of founders will only qualify for a ‘new office’ L-1 visa which is only granted for an initial 1 year period. After that initial year, the visa will need to be renewed and the renewal will be heavily scrutinized by the USCIS.
  • An individual can only hold one L-1 at a time.

Generally, if you are a strong candidate for the O-1, the O-1 allows you more flexibility and a number of additional benefits.

Benefits of the O-1 include:
  • U.S. Work Authorization.
  • The O-1 provides initial status for up to 3 years, and you are then eligible for indefinite extensions. 
  • Under USCIS’ deference policy to prior approvals, there is a strong likelihood that the O-1 extension will be approved if the material facts and parties (i.e. information about you and your company) have not changed. 
  • You can hold numerous concurrent O-1 visas. This enables you to work for numerous employers if you have a valid O-1 visa for each employer you plan to work for.
  • A significant portion of the O-1 petition may be reused in your immigrant petition for the green card process.
The limitation of the O-1 include:
  • The O-1 dependent visa, the O-3, does not enable a spouse to apply for work authorization in the United States.

Requirements for the O-1 and L-1

What are the requirements of the L-1?

The employer must:

  • Have a qualifying relationship with a foreign company, meaning a parent, a subsidiary, a branch, an affiliate or a sister company; and 
  • Will 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.

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 as an Executive, Manager, or in a specialized knowledge capacity for the same company in the U.S.
What are the requirements of the O-1?

You received a major, internationally-recognized award, such as a Nobel Prize, or you meet at least 3 of the following: 

  • Receipt of nationally or internationally recognized prizes or awards for excellence in the field of endeavor;
  • Membership in associations in the field which require outstanding achievements;
  • Published material in professional or major trade publications, newspapers or other major media about you or your work;
  • Original scientific, scholarly, or business-related contributions of major significance in the field;
  • Authorship of scholarly articles in professional journals or other major media in the field;
  • A high salary or other remuneration for services;
  • Participation on a panel, or individually, as a judge of the work of others in the field; and, 
  • Employment in a critical or essential capacity for organizations that have a distinguished reputation.

Get a deep dive into the O-1 requirements.

Comparing the O-1 to L-1

How long is the initial stay of L-1 and the O-1?

L-1

Initially 1 year with ‘new office’ L-1, or up to 3 years for a regular filing.

O-1

Initial O-1 status is valid for up to 3 years.

How long is the extension of the L-1 and O-1?

L-1

L-1A can be extended for a maximum of 7 years, and the L-1B can be extended for a maximum of 5 years including the initial period. The extensions can be made in 2-year increments.

O-1

O-1 status can be extended in 1 or 3-year increments indefinitely assuming you continue to qualify for the visa.

What is the maximum stay of L-1 and O-1?

L-1

7 years for L-1A

5 years for L-1B

O-1

Indefinite extensions

Can I file premium processing for L-1 and O-1?

L-1

Yes

O-1

Yes

What is the approval data for L-1 and the O-1?

L-1

The L-1 is granted to Intracompany transfers. Based on the information provided by USCIS, in 2020, the L-1 had an approval rate of 74.3% nationally.

O-1

The O-1 is granted to Aliens of Extraordinary Ability. Based on information provided by USCIS, in 2020, the O-1 had an approval rate of 89.7% nationally. Legalpad’s O-1 approval rate for startup founders is over 95%.

Who can you work for in the U.S. with L-1 and O-1 Status?

For both the L-1 and O-1, you may only work for the sponsoring company. However, unlike with the L-1, you may hold numerous O-1’s, and therefore, are capable of working for numerous companies so long as you hold valid O-1’s for each separate company.

How many people within the same startup can apply for L-1 and the O-1?

Unlimited for both the O-1 and L-1.

Can dependents come to the U.S. on the L-1 or the O-1?

L-1

Spouses and eligible children can obtain L-2 dependent status.

O-1

Spouses and eligible children can obtain O-3 dependent status.

Can a dependent spouse work on the L-1 or the O-1?

L-1

Yes, the spouse can apply for work authorization once physically present in the U.S.

O-1

No, O-3 spouses cannot work.

 

Can dependent children work on the L-1 or the O-1?

L-1

No, L-2 children cannot work.

O-1

No, O-3 children cannot work.