L-1 visas are available for people who have worked for a company in a foreign country which is a parent, subsidiary, or affiliate of an American business. The foreign national's employment with the company in the foreign country must include employment for at least one of the past three years, prior to entering the USA, in an executive, managerial, or specialized knowledge capacity. The Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) considers managerial to mean managing an individual who is working in a position which requires a university- level degreed professional (e.g., electrical engineer), being a "second tier" manager (e.g., someone who manages a person who manages others), or managing a key function of the business. INS looks to independent decision-making, ability to hire/terminate employees, lack of supervision, a high salary, and other factors to determine whether an individual qualifies as executive or managerial.
To qualify under the specialized knowledge category, it must be shown that the employee possesses specialized knowledge related to the business which is not easily available elsewhere. L-1 visas for existing American companies can be approved for an initial period up to three (3) years. An extension of four (4) more years is available for an L-1A and an extension for two (2) more years is available for an L-1B.
With a newly established American subsidiary, INS can approve an L -1 visa for up to one (1) year. After that year, as long as the American operation has flourished, a staff has been hired, and the employee is performing executive, managerial, or specialized knowledge activities in accordance with INS requirements, an extension of the L-1 visa for up to three (3) years can be available.
Once the extension is approved for newly established American branches or subsidiaries, an application can be made for permanent residency (green card) for executive or managerial personnel. An individual who qualifies for an L-1A with a business that has been operating for more than one (1) year can apply for permanent residence without delay. Personnel coming to the United States on an L-1B visa based upon specialized knowledge must undertake a longer and more involved process to obtain permanent residency, called a labor certification.