Understanding the Difference Between H-1B and L-1B Visas

There are many legal avenues provided to foreign nationals who wish to enter the United States through a visa. The type of visa necessary for each person depends on factors like their reason for entry, how long they plan to stay, and what they intend to do once they’re in the US. Two of the most popular visa categories are the H-1B and L-1B. Although they sound similar, they’re distinctly different. In this blog, we’ll compare and contrast each one to help you understand which is best for your needs.

Digging Into the H-1B Visa

The United States depends on foreign labor to fill many open positions, particularly today, while the labor shortage extends into tens of millions of vacant jobs. These openings are for skilled and unskilled workers, but the H-1B visa was designed specifically to focus on skilled workers in specialty occupations.

This visa program gives employers the ability to hire foreign talents in jobs that require a four-year degree or higher (or equivalent skills). It’s often sought after by those in the healthcare, education, IT, and finance industries, although it isn’t limited to those fields.

Qualifying for this visa requires meeting rigorous standards. First, the potential beneficiary must have a job offer from an approved US employer. The position must be in a specialty occupation that can only be conducted by those with relevant theoretical and practical skills and experience obtained through a bachelor’s degree or higher or equivalent experience. 

In addition to these factors, the employer must go through steps that prove they attempted to hire a US citizen and were unable to find anyone willing or able to take the position. The employer must also show that hiring the foreign worker will not adversely affect any wages or working conditions of US employees and that they will pay the foreign national the prevailing wage or greater.

The H-1B visa is given for an initial three-year period that can be extended another three years for a total of up to six years. After this limit is reached, H-1B beneficiaries must leave the US or switch visa categories. Many H-1B visa holders choose to take advantage of their right to file for permanent residency through a green card, an option that not all visa categories permit.

Understanding the L-1B Visa

An L-1B visa also provides skilled workers with the opportunity to live and seek employment in the US. However, this category is solely for international companies who wish to transfer someone already on the payroll to the US office. With this visa, those who have specialized knowledge that can be used to leverage success in the US branch of an international business can share their expertise.

Obtaining this visa requires the applicant to meet rigorous qualifications, as well. Initially, the potential L-1B beneficiary must already have one year or more of consistent employment within the previous three years by a foreign international country with a branch in the US. The position of employment must involve specialized knowledge of information unique to the business. No special education is necessary.

The L-1B visa, as with the H-1B, is granted for an initial period of up to three years. Extensions of a maximum stay of five years are permitted, with no overall limit on the length of stay, provided there is not more than seven years total combined with one person’s L-1B visa.

Transferring an employee to the same multinational company requires evidence that the applicant will continue to work for the same employer in the US, that a qualifying relationship exists between the two employers (subsidiary, branch, parent, or affiliate), and that the beneficiary holds integral knowledge that should be shared across borders.

Similarities and Differences Between the H-1B and L-1B

The two visas have certain similarities that lead to confusion for potential applicants. For instance, they both require a body of specialized knowledge to complete the job. However, L-1B visa holders can have knowledge gained from experience in the company’s position, but H-1B holders must have certain skills that allow them to complete a specialized occupation.

The H-1B visa requirements dictate that beneficiaries hold a bachelor’s degree or its equivalent. L-1B visa holders do not need any specific level of education, which works well for those who have learned their knowledge through experience.

Both visas require an employer to sponsor them. The L-1B visa holders must continue to work for the same employer through a qualifying relationship connecting the current and future companies. The H-1B visa holder only needs to show there is an employer-employee relationship and that the job offer is for a legitimate position.

Finally, when it comes to duration and the benefit of permanent residency, L-1B visas may stay for up to five years with a seven-year lifetime total. They can transfer to an L-1A visa should they move up to a managerial or executive job within the company, but they can’t apply for a green card for permanent residency during their stay. H-1B visa holders can stay in the US for a maximum of six years before they must switch visa categories. The H-1B visa comes with a provision that allows the holder to apply for permanent residency through its “dual intent” feature.

What’s Next?

Both H-1B and L-1B visas are important categories that permit foreign nationals to bring their unique experiences and skills into the United States. Each one addresses a focal need in the skills gap and labor shortage but in different avenues. Before a worker or employer applies for a particular visa, it’s crucial to understand what each one does and how to qualify for it. 

When you work with a skilled immigration attorney, like those of us at Visa2US, this becomes a streamlined process with optimal results. Contact us today to discuss your situation and goals and find out how we can help you obtain the correct visa to work in the US.

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H-1B Visa

H-1B Visa

H-1B visa is used by businesses and organizations in the United States to employ foreign nationals with the preferred qualifications, knowledge, and expertise in a role.

I-485 Adjustment of Status

I-485 Adjustment of Status

Submit a form I-485 application to apply for lawful permanent resident status.

National Interest Waiver (NIW)

National Interest Waiver (NIW)

An applicant must either hold an advanced degree or have an exceptional ability in their field that would substantially benefit the U.S. to be qualified.