The U.S. Department of State (DOS) is now authorized to issue L-1 visas with validity periods of up to five years depending on the maximum period allowed for the foreign national’s country of citizenship in the “visa reciprocity schedule” (http://travel.state.gov/visa/fees/fees_3272.html). This is the case even if that period is longer than the validity dates on the underlying petition approved by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). The visa reciprocity schedule reflects the reciprocal treatment the foreign applicant’s country accords U.S. nationals. Previously, L visa issuance was limited to the validity period of the USCIS petition, which cannot exceed three years. The new DOS rule delinks visa and petition validity periods and permits an L-1 visa to be issued for the same period as determined in the reciprocity schedule. The rule applies to both individual and “blanket” L petitions.
Impact of the New Rule
This regulatory change is beneficial only to those L-1 visa applicants who have extended their L stay and are nationals of countries, such as Argentina, India and the United Kingdom, for which the reciprocity schedule permits L-1 visa issuance in excess of three years. A visa with a five-year validity would cover the initial three-year petition and one two-year extension, thus reducing the number of visa applications and the lengthy visa renewal processing at U.S. consulates.
In contrast, visa reciprocity schedules for countries like Brazil, China and Russia provide for lesser periods of visa validity. L-1 beneficiaries from those countries are issued L visas with validity periods of only up to two years, regardless of the three-year validity of their L-1 petition. Those departing the United States after two years must apply for a new visa to re-enter and continue L-1 employment for the remainder of the three-year validity period.
The new rule affects only the validity period of the L-1 visa but does not increase the period of time that an L-1 nonimmigrant can remain in the United States. L-1 stay is limited to an initial period of up to three years regardless of the duration of the visa. Likewise, the total period of stay may not exceed five years for foreign nationals employed in a “specialized knowledge” capacity, or seven years for those employed in a managerial or executive capacity.
It remains to be seen whether U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) inspectors will admit L-1 visa holders for the duration of the visa if it is issued for a period greater than three years. It is, therefore, important for L-1 visa holders to consult with counsel to ensure that the expiration dates on their I-94, Arrival/Departure cards, are carefully monitored.