The H-1B visa cap for fiscal year 2013 was hit on June 11, 2012. As employers explore alternatives to this popular visa, one option international companies may consider is the L-1 Intracompany Transferee visa. This visa can be used to transfer an international company’s qualified foreign nationals to work in the U.S.

The L-I visa may be appropriate for managers, executives or professional or skilled employees with specialized knowledge coming to work in the U.S. for an employer that is affiliated with the foreign company the applicant worked for prior to entering the U.S. This visa classification also allows a foreign company without a U.S. location to send an executive, manager or individual with specialized knowledge here to establish a U.S. entity.

There are two types of L-I visas: the L-1A visa for managers or executives and the L-1B visa for employees with specialized knowledge. To meet the requirements for either an L-1A or L-1B visa, the employee must have been continuously employed abroad for at least one of the three preceding years for a parent, branch, affiliate, or subsidiary of the U.S. employer.

Successful L-1 applicants coming to work at an existing U.S. entity will be allowed a maximum initial stay of three years, while qualified employees entering the U.S. to establish a new office enjoy stay a maximum initial of one year. After the initial period, an executive or manager may stay in L-1A status for up to seven years, and specialized knowledge employees may stay in L-1B status for up to five years. An L-1B holder may be eligible to stay for a total of seven years, provided he or she is promoted to a managerial or executive position while in L-1B status prior to beginning the fifth year of L-1B status and has obtained an approved change of status from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS).

L-1 visas provide several advantages over other visa categories. A significant new advantage is that the L-1 visa can be issued for a validity period beyond the validity date in the underlying approved petition, depending upon the alien’s country of nationality. For many, the validity period will be five years, thus reducing the need for visa renewals. However, visa “reciprocity limits” of some countries may limit the visa validity period to less than the new five-year period.

Another advantage is the absence of any numerical limitation on the number of available L-1 visas. Moreover, an L-1 Visa petitioning employer is not subject to the labor condition application filing requirement. Further, like the H-IB visa, the L-1 visa is a “dual intent” visa, meaning the applicant may pursue permanent residency simultaneously without a negative impact on his or her ability to keep or extend the L-1 visa. Finally, spouses and children may obtain derivative visas, and spouses may apply for work authorization after entering the United States. Dependent spouses of H-1B visa holders are barred from receiving employment authorization.

Businesses with a significant U.S. presence may apply for a “blanket” L-1 petition. This means a company can bypass applying to USCIS for each individual L-1, and the foreign national seeking entry into the U.S. can submit his or her visa application directly to the appropriate U.S. consulate. For additional information about visa options, please see our article, H-1B Alternatives: When No H-1Bs are Available.