Congratulations! Your investors have pulled through, the board has approved, and you are now ready to hit the US market like no other start-up this side of the Mediterranean. As one of the company’s key executives, you are expected to uproot your life and family (like yesterday) and set up the sales and marketing subsidiary in Anywhere, USA. Now, before you go picking out curtains for your new Palo Alto estate, there’s one small matter that needs to be taken care of well in advance of the move – your US work visa. Oh right, THAT.

L-1 Visa for Intra Company Transferees – Who qualifies?

For most people, the mere thought of international relocation can be painful on many different levels. From finding a good school for the kids, through international tax considerations (talk to our tax partner Guy Katz about that), to a spouse’s ability to obtain work authorization, there are a myriad of issues to deal with.

In light of the above, I’m going to try and make the immigration part as simple and straightforward as possible. If you answer “yes” to the following questions, you may be eligible for an L-1 visa:

  • Have you been employed on a full-time and continuous basis by a foreign (non-US) company in a managerial, executive or specialized knowledge capacity for at least 12 consecutive months?
  • Does the foreign company intend to transfer you to its US parent, subsidiary, affiliate or branch office in a managerial, executive or specialized knowledge capacity?​

L-1 “New Office” Starter Kit

The L-1 category includes a special program for companies that have been doing business in the United States for less than 12 months. The L-1 “New Office” program is advantageous for multinational corporations seeking to transfer employees to newly-established US entities in that it relaxes the usual evidentiary requirements which would normally be difficult, if not impossible, for a new company to meet.

With the above in mind, we must also remember that there is no such thing as a free lunch, and that the US immigration authorities (USCIS) expect to see certain documentation within the scope of an L-1 New Office request:

  1. Business plan – We’re talking old school style. The business plan must include all the usual trimmings, plus a 5 year financial forecast and hiring plan. The Excel sheet you submitted to your investors is not going to work here.
  2. Office lease – A real one, with enough square footage to accommodate all of the employees that you are planning to hire over the next year, or at a minimum, a lease that contains an option for additional space as the company grows. Virtual and home offices are problematic in this regard.
  3. Bank account – A bank account must be opened under the US company name. The bank account should contain sufficient funds to support the initial year of company operations, including payment of employee salaries and all other operational costs as set out in the business plan. 
  4. Dun & Bradstreet number – When adjudicating the L-1 petition, USCIS accesses the US company’s D&B report to verify certain information about the US and foreign entities. If this information cannot be verified, USCIS cannot approve the L-1 petition. Apply for a D&B number ASAP: http://www.dnb.com/  ​

Are we there yet?

While the above does not constitute an exhaustive list of required L-1 documentation, these basics are mission critical for all New Office requests. Since my dear grandmother always taught me to be honest, I must admit that preparing and obtaining these documents can be burdensome and even counterintuitive. That being said, a USCIS request for additional evidence which asks for everything but the kitchen sink is far worse, not to mention an epic waste of time and money.