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USA Work Visas: L-1 vs H-1B Visa

Updated on June 2, 2012

Are you looking to come to the US on a work visa and wondering what the best options is for you? I am a US citizen but my boyfriend is a citizen of the EU and the company where he works wants him to come to work to the US on a project so we also were wondering what the best option is since we quickly learned that there are a number of different US work visas.

In this article, I will walk you through the different types of work visas, the application process for each one, and compare and contrast the available work visas.

The L-1 Visa

To put it simply, an L-1 Visa, a.k.a. Intra-company Transfer allows a non-US citizen to come and work in the US with the company he/she works at overseas.

There are two types of L-1 visas:

  1. L-1A which is for people employed in managerial or executive positions; and
  2. L-1B which is for people who have specialized knowledge.

To qualify for the L-1 visa, you must have worked overseas for your company for at least one year in the past three years and with this intra-company transfer visa, you are expected to fill a similar role in the US.

Below are some useful facts about the L-1 visa:

  • it's quick to obtain (just one to two weeks!)

  • you can transfer to an H-1B via change in status if you want in the future

  • it allows you to remain in the US for up to seven years
  • the company where you'll be working needs to be a branch, subsidiary, affiliate or joint venture partner of the company

L-1 Visa Application Process

  1. Your employer needs to contact the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to file a petition for you
  2. When the petition is approved, you'll get an i-797
  3. You'll need to fill out form DS-160 online
  4. Then, you'll need to schedule an appointment with the US embassy near where you live and pay the visa application fee
  5. You will need to bring the original i-797 with you to the appointment as well as the filled out DS-160 form
  6. Once you go to your interview, on average, your passport will be returned to you the day after the interview (roughly a 24-hour turnaround time) with an L-1 stamp

The H-1B Visa

The H-1B Visa, a.k.a. the Professional Person's Visa is the most common work visa, allowing foreign nationals to come and work in the U.S. This type of visa is for people who have a higher education such as an Undergraduate or Master's degrees, as well as models and people working on Government-to-Government research and development. To get an H-1B visa, you need to find a company willing to sponsor your visa to work in the U.S.

Below are some useful facts about the H-1B visa. It:

  • takes anywhere between one to six months to obtain
  • lasts for one to three years
  • is renewable
  • requires you to get a new sponsorship if you want to change employers
  • can lead to getting permanent residency

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H-1B Visa Application Process

  1. You must find an employer in the US who is willing to sponsor an H-1B visa for you
  2. The company which is sponsoring you needs to file a Labor Certification Application (LCA), which will be returned to the company once approved
  3. The H-1B petition, which includes forms, fees, proof of education and letter of employment among others will need to be sent to USCIS
  4. After a few month, the company that's petitioning you will receive a receipt from USCIS and you will receive an H1-B petition receipt as well which will provide the expected processing time to obtain approval of the H-1B petition
  5. The company that's sponsoring your visa will receive an approval notice, called Form I-797
  6. You must then go to a US Consulate for an appointment and after 2-3 days, you'll receive your passport with a working visa stamped in it

Differences Between H-1b and L-1 Visas

Can be transferred to another company without having to leave the country
Quick to obtain (under two weeks); Can be transferred to an H1B in October
There is an annual quota; H1B visa petitions are accepted from April 1st until the quota is filled; Can take up to six months to process
You cannot change companies


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