L-1 and E Visas Compared

The L-1 visa shares some characteristics with E visas. Each visa, however, has significant differences.

  1. Qualifications

Both L-1 and E visas are used by Foreign Nationals (FN) seeking to work in the United States. L-1 visa holders often come to the United States to open up or oversee a branch of their company in the United States.

The L-1 visa process begins when a US employer petitions on behalf of a FN employee working in an overseas facility of the US company. To qualify, the FN employee must have been employed by the foreign facility as an executive, a manager, or an employee with specialized knowledge. The FN must have held that position prior to coming to the United States, and his intended position in the US must be substantially similar in nature to the position held overseas. 

The E-1 or E-2 visa process begins when a qualified FN investor petitions on behalf of himself, his business, and certain employees. 

The E visa program originated from treaty requirements between the US and certain treaty countries. E-1 and E-2 visas are only available to nationals of those countries where a bilateral investment treaty or treaty of commerce and navigation exists. To qualify for an E-1 or E-2, a business enterprise must be engaged in trade with the United States or have a substantial investment in the United States. 

L-1 visas have no trade or investment requirements. Instead, the foreign business must be a parent, branch, subsidiary, or affiliate of a United States company. A company from any country could qualify.

  1. Time Limits

 Visa Initial Length Extensions Length Total Possible Time
 E-1 2 years variable 2 years indefinite
 E-2 2 years variable 2 years indefinite
 L-1A 1 year up to 3 2 years 7 years
 L-1B 3 years 1 2 years 5 years

Once an L-1A or L-1B holder has reached their maximum allowable period, they must leave the United States for a minimum of one year and must work for a foreign operation of the U.S. company before they are eligible to reapply for another L visa. 

E Extensions are granted so long as the E visa holder declares his intention to leave the United States when the period of time authorized to stay ends.

  1. Pathway To Permanent Resident Status

L-1A status provides a relatively easy pathway to permanent resident status. The L-1 visa is a dual intent visa, allowing an L-1 status holder to apply for permanent residence any time during his stay. Further, a special employment based immigrant preference category, EB-1C, for executives and managers that meet the L-1A standards, provides another avenue for obtainin lawful permanent resident status. L-1 status is not a prerequisite for immigrant benefits under EB-1C, but the L-1 makes a better case for the beneficiary. 

On the other hand, the path to permanent resident status from E-1 or E-2 is not as easy as from L-1. Since E visas are not dual intent, consular officers or the USCIS want to make sure E visa holders do not actually intend to enter the U.S. permanently. If a non-immigrant on an E visa attempted to apply for an immigration petition soon after their arrival in the United States, their application would be considered fraudulent or based on preconceived intent and be denied. An E-1 or E-2 visa holder, when applying for extensions of status, must prove to the USCIS that they intend to depart the United States when their legal status ends.

  1. Types of Applicants

Both E and L visas may be used by companies to expand their business in the United States. However, there are differences between what kinds of companies use what kind of visa. Generally, E visas are mainly used by small business while L-1 visas are used by all types of businesses- big, medium, and small. Although there is a minimum threshold for the amount of capital invested in the United States by the foreign company applying for an E visa, generally the visa is sought by smaller companies seeking to send employees to help grow their business. However, while an L-1 visa can most certainly be used by small companies to send employees to the United States to start a new branch office, it is also commonly used by large, international companies who may want to rotate executives or managers through their international offices. There is also much less necessary documentation for large companies applying for L-1 visas, as if the company is well known the USCIS will not scrutinize their application as much as they would a smaller company.

  1. Application Process

In some instances the application process for both L-1 visas and E visas are nearly identical. When initially applying for the visa, both L-1s and E-1/E2s can either apply at a U.S. consulate abroad or on an I-129 form with the USCIS (if they are already present in the United States). When changing status or applying for an extension of status, again both L-1 and E visa holders will apply on an I-129 form with the USCIS. The major difference, however, is at their initial visa application. For an L-1 visa application, whether or not the beneficiary is applying at a consulate abroad or is changing status from within the United States, their employer must send an L petition to the USCIS. Only once the USCIS has approved the application may the beneficiary proceed to the consulate to obtain their visa. By contrast, an E-1/E-2 visa applicant may simply apply with the Department of State at a consulate, without a separate USCIS application of I-129.

Although at first glance they may be easy to confused, as we have outlined above there are several key differences between L-1 and E-1/E-2 visas that are important to keep in mind. There are many different options available to foreign businesses, employees, and investors who wish to come to the United States to grow their companies. Depending on a company’s needs, L-1 or E-2/E-2 could be the correct choice.

Our Attorneys can help you determine an immigration and visa strategy appropriate to your goals. 

For more information on L visa, please refer to the following links:

More information on the E-1 and E-2 category visas: