L-1 Visa vs H-1B Visa: Eligibility and Benefits

Last Updated on November 27, 2023


Once H-1B cap season is over, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) issues H-1B visa approvals and rejections for petitions that were submitted but not selected.

Many who did not make the cut will be looking at H-1B visa alternatives to bring their employees to the U.S. One option to consider is the L-1 visa, which is also available for workers in a specialty occupation. For workers who are not selected in the competitive H-1B lottery, an L-1 visa may be a viable option.

Here is a comparative look at the L-1 visa vs H-1B visa.

L-1 Visa vs H-1B Visa: Who is Eligible?

L-1 visa vs H-1B visa: who is eligible?

One of the most important distinctions between the L-1 visa and H-1B visa is that the L-1 is for intracompany transfers. That means that in order to be eligible for the L-1 visa, an employee must have been employed at an international branch, parent, subsidiary or affiliate for at least 12 continuous months within the previous three years.

Are specialty occupations and specialized knowledge the same thing?

No. Both H-1B and L-1 visas are available to workers with specialty skills, but the L-1 is specifically available to executives, managers or specialists, whereas the H-1B is available to eligible applicants in occupations which require at least a Bachelor’s degree in a specific field. L-1 visa eligibility is based on qualifying activities specific to a role and qualifications, rather than their occupation or job title.

L-1 Visa Eligibility: What are the Two L-1 Visas?

There are two L-1 visa categories: L-1A for executives and manager-level employees, and L-1B for those with specialized knowledge. Each has its own eligibility requirements. A specialized knowledge employee, for example, must possess unique knowledge that’s essential to the company’s competitiveness that can’t be found in other employees, or within the industry in general. An executive can only be engaged in high-level business activities, which means they can’t simultaneously be involved in on-the-ground activities.

Do you Need a Degree for the L-1 Visa?

To the benefit of many employees who might not fit the strict educational requirements for the H-1B visa, a degree is not necessarily required for the L-1 visa. However, to qualify under some specializations, a degree could be part of the qualifying requirements. This should be considered on a case-by-case basis, so consult your legal counsel before taking action to apply for an L-1.

Benefits of the L-1 Visa vs H-1B Visa

Benefits of the L-1 visa vs H-1B visa

The L-1 visa is available to organizations looking to sponsor and send employees from a branch, parent, subsidiary or affiliate in another country to the United States. If the employee is an executive, manager or has specialized knowledge in their field and has been employed by your company for at least one consecutive year during the previous three years, they may be eligible.

Is There an L-1 Visa Cap?

The H-1B visa is notorious for its annual limit of 85,000 visas. The number of H-1B applicants typically increases annually, which means that more applicants receive denials each year. The L-1 visa, on the other hand, has no annual cap, which means any number of applicants can apply knowing that their petition won’t be rejected because a limit has been reached.

How Long Can I Stay on an L-1 Visa?

While the H-1B visa maxes out at six years, the L-1A visa has a maximum stay period of seven years. The L-1B visa for employees with specialized knowledge has a maximum stay period of only five years.

Is the L-1 Visa Dual Intent?

Yes, the L-1 visa is dual intent, just like the H-1B visa. Because the L-1 visa is dual intent, visa holders who plan to apply to stay in the U.S. with permanent residency once their stay period is up can apply for their green card while on the visa without restrictions. Not all visas are dual intent visas, which makes L-1 visas popular with employees who are hoping to stay in the country long term.

What About the Blanket L Certification?

If your organization qualifies for the Blanket L Certification, the benefits go beyond all those listed above. The Blanket L is a shortcut for eligible companies that have (1) three or more domestic foreign branches, subsidiaries and affiliates,  (2) U.S. and foreign entities that are doing business, (3) a U.S. office that has been doing business for at least one year,  and (4) at least one of the following: have been approved for 10 or more L-1 visas during the last 12 months, make annual sales of at least $25 million or have a U.S. workforce of 1,000 employees or more. The Blanket L helps employees skip up to six months of processing time and take their application directly to the U.S. consulate abroad for on-site approval. In general, it’s an ideal option for companies looking to make short-notice transfers between international branches.

Are There Downsides to the L-1 Visa?

U.S. immigration authorities have increased scrutiny over both the H-1B visa and the L-1 visa, and USCIS has increased the number of site visits at worksites of L-1 visa-sponsored employees. Additionally, both the L-1 visa and H-1B visa have seen an increase in requests for evidence (RFEs) as well, which can make the application process longer.

To learn more about the L-1 visa, watch our on-demand webinar: Introduction to L Visas: Temporary Intracompany Transferees