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L1 vs. H1B: Which Visa is Right For You?

The L-1 and H-1B are both U.S. work visas that enable American companies to employ foreign workers. In this article, we’ll evaluate the benefits of each!

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Overview of L-1 vs. H-1B Nonimmigrant Visas

Nonimmigrant visas like the L-1 and H-1B enable foreign nationals to work for a U.S. company temporarily. Both the L-1 and H-1B visas offer the following advantages:

  • Temporary work authorization for a U.S. company: Once you work for a U.S. employer, your experience won’t be much different if you’re on the H-1B or L-1. 
  • Path to a green card: Both the L-1 and H-1B are Dual Intent visas, meaning that L-1 and H-1B visa holders can easily apply for a green card and travel internationally while their green card is processing without having to file for advance parole
  • Work authorization for spouses: The L-1 and H-1B also allow dependent spouses to work in the U.S., making both options advantageous for married foreign workers. 

Although both visas are avenues to work in the U.S. and eventually obtain a green card, there are quite a few differences when it comes to the L-1 vs. H-1B. In the remainder of this article, we'll discuss these differences so that you can determine which visa is the best fit for you or your employees.

The L-1 Visa for Intracompany Transferees

The L-1 visa allows a multinational company to transfer an executive, manager, or specialized knowledge professional from a foreign office to a U.S office.

L-1 Criteria:

Company requirements:

  • Your company must have (1) a foreign entity that has been established for at least a year and (2) a U.S. company with a qualifying relationship (parent, subsidiary, brand, affiliate, or sister company of your foreign company).
  • The U.S. company has a physical office space, or you are willing to set one up.
  • You plan to continue business operations in the U.S. and at least one other country throughout the duration of the L-1(s) you want to file (usually one year to start).
  • You have employees that you'd like to transfer to the U.S. who meet the L-1A or L-1B qualifications (see below).

Employee requirements: 

There are two types of L-1 visas: L-1As for managers and executives and L-1Bs for specialized knowledge workers. The company requirements are the same for L-1A and L-1B, but the type of employee who qualifies differs. 

  1. L-1A Visa Qualifications for Managers and Executives 
  • The L-1A work visa is for managers and executives who have worked for their foreign employer for at least one continuous year within the past three years. 
  • It is important to acknowledge that a "manager" may manage people, but they could also manage critical functions within the company. 
  • With an approved L-1A visa, qualified employees can transfer to the company's U.S. office to work in an executive or managerial position.
  1. L-1B Visa Qualifications for Specialized Knowledge Workers
  • The L-1B work visa is for specialized knowledge workers who have worked at their employer for at least one continuous year within the past three years. 
  • Specialized knowledge workers could include employees important to the company's success who would be difficult to replace because of their organizational knowledge and expertise.
  • With an approved L-1B visa, qualified employees can transfer to the company's U.S. office to work in a role that relates to their specialized knowledge. 

The Advantages of the L-1 Visa:

  • No wage requirement: Unlike the H-1B, the L-1 has no wage requirement. This makes the L-1 a practical choice for companies that are just getting started and might not be able to pay the prevailing wage.
  • No lottery or cap: As opposed to the H-1B, there is no limit on the number of L-1 visas issued and no lottery system.
  • 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. 
  • Relatively simple qualifications: Each work visa has different criteria, but the L-1 visa qualifications are pretty straightforward. 

Downsides to the L-1 Visa:

  • High RFE rates for new office L-1s: If your company has never filed an L-1 before, you'll be required to start with filing what is called a "new office L-1". New office L-1s, unfortunately, have relatively high Request for Additional Evidence (RFE) rates. An RFE does not guarantee a denial, but it can slow down 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, the reality is, that this visa is not a fit for everyone. Look at the requirements above for more info. 

The H-1B Visa for Specialty Occupations

Easily the most well-known work visa, the H-1B is a common pathway to employment in the U.S.  

H-1B Criteria:

  • Have a job offer from a U.S. company for a role that requires speciality knowledge.
  • Have a U.S. Bachelor's degree (or foreign equivalent) related to your area of specialty knowledge, or 12+ years of professional experience related to the role. 
  • The U.S. company must demonstrate a lack of qualified U.S. applicants for the role.

The Advantages of the H-1B Visa:

  • Easy change of employer: H-1B visa portability allows H-1B visa holders to change employers relatively easily. 
  • Generic requirements: The H-1B is fairly easy to qualify for, as long as you have a Bachelor’s degree related to the field in which you’ll be working. 

Downsides to the H-1B Visa:

  • Visa cap: The H1-B is referred to as a "capped" visa, which means only a limited number of new visas are available each year.
  • Lottery: Depending on the year, USCIS may implement a lottery system in which applicants are selected randomly. After being selected in the lottery, they still need to file their application. 
  • Wage requirement: H-1B visa holders must be paid a specific prevailing wage based on their job title and region. This is sometimes a downside for newer startups that don't yet have the resources to pay a prevailing wage. 
  • Strict start dates: Regardless of when an H-1B application is filed, the start date is always in October. 
  • Limited validity: The H-1B is initially valid for three years and can only be extended once for an additional three years. After that, you have to leave the U.S. for at least a year before reapplying for another visa, or have an approved I-140 and be actively pursuing a green card.  

L-1 vs H-1B: Which is right for me?

Visas are highly individual. That is why it is important to take your immigration journey into your own hands, learn as much as possible, and work with an experienced immigration team. Consider all your options by looking into other nonimmigrant visas such as the O-1, E-2, and TN. If you want personalized assistance, get started with Legalpad today. We’d be delighted to be a part of your immigration journey!

About the author:

Annie Blay

Content Marketing Specialist

Before joining the marketing team, Annie helped over 60 Legalpad clients navigate U.S. immigration on the client services team.