E versus L

The L intracompany transferee visa and the E treaty trader/investor visa are two of the more popular work authorizing nonimmigrant visa categories, and individuals who are eager to relocate themselves or their key employees to the U.S.  may already know a bit about them.  However, they may not know which one is the better fit for their needs.  Although these visas both allow the holders to work in the US, they weren’t created to address the same need, so they aren’t equally available to interested parties.   And when they are, one might work better than the other, depending on the job to be done and the skills required.

At first examination it would seem that the L and E categories have little in common.  The E visa, for example, is narrowly targeted at prospective traders and investors in the U.S.  who are citizens of countries with which the U.S. has a ratified treaty of trade and commerce,  while the L visa is intended for a much broader group–individual employees, regardless of nationality,  of companies that have U.S. offices.   The E visa also allows companies that want to benefit from E status to register themselves as treaty trader/investor companies,  even if they don’t yet have a U.S. presence, as long as they have the requisite nationality.  The  L visa conveys no such status on companies that do not already have fully functional branches or subsidiaries in the U.S. (with a limited exception for start ups within their first year of US operations. )  Immigrant intent as set forth in INA section 214b remains an aspect of E visa adjudications, while L visa applicants are expressly exempt from that provision.  And lastly, but not leastly, the L visa is petitioned based, requiring the prior approval by CIS of a petition filed by the employer, while the E visa proceed directly to adjudication by a US consular officer–an employee of the Department of State.

But the two categories also share some key characteristics.  Both allow the holders to work in the US in quite similar capacities. For example, E visas are available to employees of E registered businesses who will be filling either a supervisory/managerial role or who have special skills–closely analogous  to the requirements for L-1A manager/executives and L-1B specialized skilled employees.   Neither requires a test of the U.S. labor market, nor are there statutory limits on the number of visas that can be issued in the category each year–unlike the H-1B visa.

A company that is qualified to transfer key employees with L visas can in some instances also qualify to be registered as an E treaty trader company, thereby gaining the ability to use E visas to relocate some employees.  Making use of both visa categories can expand the company’s options for getting the right personnel to the US at the best time.  For example, a key recent hire who can’t satisfy the L one year of employment requirement could, if he or she has the requisite nationality, still benefit from E visa issuance as a skilled employee.  E registered companies can also  get E visas for eligible key employees more quickly than by pursuing original L petitions for the same individual .

Smaller businesses seeking to expand in the U.S. should confirm whether E registration is available to them based on nationality and qualifying trade and investment.  If it is, obtaining that status makes very good sense.

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