Which Visa is Right For You? L-1 Versus H-1B

One of the “easiest” ways to get into the United States is through a work visa, although we use the term “easiest” loosely. No matter which visa you apply for, the process is full of hurry-up-and-wait steps to file documentation, pay fees, and attend interviews.

Still, hundreds of thousands of people apply for work visas annually, with the L-1 and H-1B as two of the most popular categories. The two have some similarities but are very different in many ways. Which visa is best for your needs? Read on to find out.

Understanding the L-1 and H-1B Visas

As you begin exploring your options to work in the US, you’ll hear the suggested L-1 and H-1B visas. They aren’t interchangeable, although if you don’t qualify for one, you might still be able to obtain the other.

Both visas allow you the legal status you need to enter the country and obtain employment. The differences from there will determine which visa you apply for.

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

You need a work visa. Where should you start your research?

The first factor to look at is your employer. If your extended job offer came from an American-based company and an American employer, you may qualify for an H-1B Visa. 

L-1 visas are typically used when the petitioner has received an offer of employment from a multinational company in a key position. This would be a transfer to the US branch of the company from another overseas branch where you were already employed.

With that in mind, let’s look at some of the other key differences between the two visas.

Who Can Apply?

The L-1 visa is open to managers and executives of international companies or someone with specialized knowledge, such as a doctor or engineer. The H-1B visa is open to anyone meeting the criteria of a USCIS-approved specialty occupation.

Job Requirements

The most important job requirement for an L-1 visa is that you are transferring from an overseas branch of a multinational company. Your salary can come from the US branch or the parent company overseas. To obtain the H-1B visa, you can work in any open specialty position in a US company, as long as you’re well-qualified for the job.

The duration of your L-1 visa depends on the work contract you sign. The H-1B visa is provided for three years, with an option to extend it another three years.

Employee Qualifications

Moving into employee qualifications, the L-1 visa is the most strict. For this visa, you must have worked in a qualifying position at the company's overseas branch for at least one of the past three years. 

No academic qualification requirements accompany this visa, and the employer does not need approval from the Department of Labor to extend this job offer. There are no salary requirements, other than you must get paid commensurate with the job.

For the H-1B visa, you needn’t have any previous work experience in the new position. However, the employer must receive approval from the Department of Labor before extending an official job offer. 

You must meet the highly qualified requirements to perform the position, and the academic experience is strict. You’ll need a bachelor’s degree at a minimum or advanced training and skills to meet the level necessary to do the job. The job you obtain with an H-1B visa must pay at least the average salary for the position in the US. 

Changing Jobs

Another factor to consider is whether you want to be tied to the same job when you get to the US. If you’re on an L-1 visa, you can’t transfer employment. With an H-1B visa and the proper documentation protocols, you can move around until you find a position you want to stay in for the duration of the visa.

Your Family

Both visas give you the ability to bring your family with you to the US. The difference is the kind of visa each family member holds. L-1 visa holder family members receive an L2 visa, automatically granting them the right to work and go to school. H-1B visa holder family members receive an H4 visa, so they can study in the US but must apply for an Employment Authorization Document to work.

What’s Next?

Now that you know the details of the two visas, it’s time to decide which one is right for you. At Visa2US, our expert staff can explain the benefits and drawbacks of each one for your circumstances and help you complete the process. We’re there with you every step of the way, from decisions to successful petitions. 

Our friendly professionals are ready to answer your questions 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Let us help you get over to the United States and boost your career options today.


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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.