L1 Visa vs H1B. What Are The Key Differences?

L1 vs H1B visa Key Differences

The H1B and L1 visas are two of the most sought-after nonimmigrant work visas in the USA. While both visas allow foreign nationals to work in the country for a US-based company, they have distinct differences in terms of eligibility requirements, processing times, costs, validity periods, and pathways to permanent residency. In this article, we’ll delve into the nuances of the L1 Visa vs H1B visa, providing a detailed comparison to help you decide which one is right for you. 

What are H1B and L1 Visas?

The H1B and L1 visas are work permits that allow foreign workers to take up employment in the US with the option of bringing their spouse and dependents. The H1B visa is a temporary, non-immigrant visa that allows US employers to hire foreign workers in specialty occupations. These occupations typically require a bachelor’s degree or higher in a specific field, such as science, engineering, computer programming, or finance. The H1B visa is employer-sponsored, meaning the employer must file a petition and obtain approval from the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) before hiring a foreign worker.

On the other hand, the L1 visa is a non-immigrant visa that facilitates the temporary transfer of an employee from an international company to its US parent, subsidiary, affiliate, or branch office. The L1 visa has two subcategories: L1A for managers and executives and L1B for employees with specialized knowledge. The primary purpose of the L1 visa is to enable multinational companies to transfer specialty key personnel to the US for business purposes.

H1B Visa vs L1 Visa: A detailed comparison

When it comes to choosing between the H1B and L1 visas, there are several key factors to consider. While both visas will allow you to work in the US, they differ significantly in terms of application and pathways to residency. Here’s what you need to know about each of them before making a decision.

Processing time

The processing time for both visas can vary significantly depending on several factors, such as the volume of applications received by the USCIS and the complexity of the case. However, in general, L1 visa applications tend to have a shorter processing time compared to H1B visa applications. L1 visas are typically processed within a few weeks to a few months, while H1B visa processing can take several months or even longer, especially during peak filing seasons.

For H1B visas, one of the key factors contributing to longer processing times is the annual cap and lottery system. The H1B visa program is competitive, so it is subject to an annual cap of 85,000 new visas each fiscal year, with 20,000 visas allocated for individuals with a master’s degree or higher from a US institution. Due to the high demand for H1B visas, which often exceeds the annual cap, the USCIS holds a lottery to randomly select petitions. This lottery system can significantly delay the processing of H1B visa applications, as petitions must first clear the lottery before they can be reviewed and processed by USCIS officers. 

The L1 visa processing is generally more streamlined and efficient, as there is no annual cap or lottery system to contend with, allowing for a smoother and faster adjudication process for those who are eligible.


The eligibility requirements for the H1B applicant and L1 applicant differ substantially. To qualify for an H1B visa, the prospective employee must satisfy the educational requirements, holding at least a bachelor’s degree or equivalent in the specific specialty occupation. Additionally, the job offer must be a specialty occupation that requires theoretical and practical application of a body of highly specialized knowledge.

For the L1 visa, the eligibility criteria depend on the employee’s prior employment with the foreign company. L1A applicants must have worked for the company in an executive or managerial capacity for at least one year within the preceding three years before applying. L1B visa applicants must have specialized knowledge of the company’s products, services, research, equipment, techniques, and management and must have worked for the foreign company for at least one year within the preceding three years.


Both visas come with associated costs and fees, but the L1 visa tends to be more cost-effective for employers. The H1B visa requires employers to pay various fees, including a base filing fee, fraud prevention and detection fee, and potentially additional fees based on the company’s size and workforce composition. These fees can add up quickly, making the H1B visa much more expensive for employers.

The L1 visa, on the other hand, has lower filing fees, making it a more cost-effective option for multinational companies transferring personnel. While the base filing fee and fraud prevention may apply, employers are not subject to the additional fees that H1B visa petitioners face, resulting in significant cost savings. The employees’ costs are similar, but because of the faster processing times of the L1 visa, the individual will typically be settled and work much more quickly.


The validity period for the H1B visa is initially three years, with the possibility of extending it for an additional three years, for a total of six years. After that, the H1B visa holder must either switch to a different visa category or pursue permanent residency (a green card) to continue working in the US.

The initial period of stay for both L-1A (managers and executives) and L-1B (employees with specialized knowledge) visas is either one year (for individuals establishing a new office in the US) or three years (for all other visa holders), with options to renew status in increments. 

For L-1A visa holders, the initial validity period is three years, which can be extended for an additional two years at a time, allowing for a maximum stay of up to seven consecutive years. For L-1B visa holders, the initial validity period is also three years, but the maximum stay is limited to five consecutive years, with the option to extend the visa for an additional two years after the initial three-year period.


The H1B and L1 visas can be renewed, but the process and requirements differ. For the H1B visa, the employer must file a new petition with the USCIS, including updated documentation and evidence supporting the continued employment and specialty occupation requirements.

Renewal of the L1 visa is generally more straightforward as long as the employee remains employed by the same multinational company and continues to meet the eligibility criteria. However, the maximum validity period for the L1 visa cannot be extended beyond the specified validity limits.

Company transfer

One key advantage of the L1 visa is its flexibility regarding company transfers. L1 visa holders can easily transfer to a related US company within the same multinational organization without going through the entire visa application process again. This is particularly beneficial for companies with multiple US entities or offices.

Transferring to a new employer on an H1B visa can be more complicated. The new employer must file a new H1B petition, and the employee may need to switch to a different visa status or leave the country until the new petition is approved.


Both the H1B and L1 visas have provisions for extensions, but the requirements differ. For the H1B visa, extensions beyond the six-year limit are possible in certain circumstances, such as when the visa holder has an approved or pending permanent residency (green card) application.

The L1 visa, however, cannot be extended beyond the maximum validity period of five years for L1A and L1B. If the employee needs to continue working in the US after the maximum validity period, they may need to explore other visa options or pursue permanent residency. 

If the foreign professional leaves the country, they must be outside the US for at least one year before starting a new H1B or L1 application.


While both visas allow foreign workers to be employed in the US, there are differences in salary requirements. For the H1B visa, employers must pay the prevailing wage for the specific occupation and geographic area, as determined by the US Department of Labor. This ensures that H1B workers are not underpaid compared to their US counterparts in similar positions.

The L1 visa does not have a specific wage requirement. However, the employee’s salary must be consistent with the minimum wage and industry standard for the employee’s qualifications and experience. 

L1 Visa to Green Card

The L1 visa can serve as a pathway to permanent residency for eligible employees, and it offers a distinct advantage over other nonimmigrant visas due to its “dual intent” status. Most nonimmigrant visas require applicants to prove they intend to leave the US at the end of their visa periods, rather than pursue a green card. However, the L1 visa is a notable exception. 

Although it is a nonimmigrant visa, L1 visa holders are allowed to simultaneously intend to spend time as a nonimmigrant in the US and also pursue the possibility of permanent residency. This is known as “dual intent,” it is one of the many benefits that make the L1 visa an attractive option for multinational companies and their employees.

After working in the US on an L1 visa for at least one year, the employee may be eligible to apply for a green card through the employment-based immigration process — transferring to a  EB visa. This process typically involves the employer sponsoring the employee for permanent residency and demonstrating that the employee meets the required qualifications and criteria. Employers typically prefer pursuing the EB-1 first preference category for L1 visa holders as it allows them to bypass the complex labor certification process. Since L1A visa holders are already recognized as employees of an international company, they are exempt from the labor certification requirement, streamlining the green card application process. This entire process typically takes around eight months to a year.

H1B Visa to Green Card

Like the L1 visa, the H1B visa can also lead to permanent residency for qualified individuals and is a common stepping stone for foreign workers seeking permanent residency in the US. After working on an H1B visa for a qualifying period, the employee may also be eligible to apply for a green card through the employment-based immigration process sponsored by their employer.

Unlike the L1 visa, which allows for “dual intent” from the outset, H1B visa holders must maintain nonimmigrant intent during the initial stages of their stay. However, once they have met specific requirements, they can proceed with the green card application process without jeopardizing their H1B status. These requirements include maintaining valid H1B status, typically being employed by their sponsoring employer for at least one year, having a qualifying job offer, and meeting educational and other requirements for an employment-based green card category. 

It’s also worth noting that L1 and H1B visa holders may be eligible for family-based green cards if qualifying relatives (such as an American spouse) can sponsor them.

In conclusion, the L1 and H1B employee visas both have unique advantages and considerations. While the H1B visa is more suitable for specialized occupations, the L1 visa offers greater flexibility for multinational companies transferring personnel, faster processing times, and lower costs. Ultimately, the choice between the two visas will depend on the specific circumstances of the employer and the employee and their long-term goals and objectives.

If you’d like to discuss your options further and discover more, reach out to Path2Canada.

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