L-1 Blanket Petitions: How to Qualify and Why Eligible Companies Should Consider Them
Many companies with an international presence may already be familiar with the L-1 visa, generally used to temporarily transfer certain employees from an affiliated foreign company to a related U.S. entity. Fewer companies know about the option to petition for a Blanket L-1 approval from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). The Blanket L-1 offers a more streamlined process of transferring employees to the U.S. on an L-1 visa.
This article will answer common questions:
- What is a Blanket L-1 petition?
- How do companies qualify?
- What are the benefits for pursuing a Blanket L-1 approval?
Individual L-1 Petitions
To understand the benefits of the Blanket petition process, we should first understand the basic elements of an individual L-1 petition. A company wishing to transfer a foreign employee to the U.S. may submit an L-1 petition to USCIS demonstrating that:
- The employee has worked for at least one year out of the preceding three years outside of the U.S. with a foreign company.
- The employee has worked with the foreign company either as an executive or manager or in a position that required specialized knowledge of the company's products or services.
- The employee will be transferred to a U.S. company that has a qualifying corporate relationship with that foreign company (parent, subsidiary, branch, or affiliate).
- The foreign employee is coming to work in the U.S. either as an executive or manager in L-1A status, or in a position requiring specialized knowledge of the company’s products or services in L-1B status.
Companies can file L-1 petitions with USCIS under regular processing or premium processing. Once USCIS has approved the L-1 petition, the employee beneficiary must schedule an appointment with a U.S. consular post abroad for visa processing before they can enter the U.S. in L-1 status. The employee can then work in the U.S. in L-1A status for up to seven years or in L-1B status for up to five years, broken into an initial stay of three years and subsequent extension(s) of two years. L-1 petitions may also be filed by companies seeking to transfer an employee abroad to the U.S. to open a new office.
Historically, USCIS issues requests for additional evidence ("RFEs") more frequently for individual L-1 petitions than many other types of nonimmigrant petitions, and USCIS denial rates for individual L-1 petitions are also higher than other case types. USCIS publishes annual statistics for overall approval rates, rates of requests for evidence, and approval rates after requests for evidence. For Fiscal Year 2022 (from October 2021 up to June 2022), 83% of petitions were approved overall, 36.5% of petitions received a request for additional evidence, and 65.2% of petitions were approved after a request for additional evidence. In a significant majority of these cases, RFEs and denials are based on the USCIS conclusion that the employer has failed to establish that the foreign national either has gained specialized knowledge of the company’s products or services through their employment abroad or will use that knowledge in their U.S. position, or both. This high RFE and denial rate is driven by the fact that the USCIS has failed to provide clear and workable definitions of the “specialized knowledge” concept.
Blanket L-1 Visa Petitions
As an alternative to the individual L-1 visa petition process described above, eligible companies can file a Blanket L-1 petition with the USCIS to establish the qualifying relationship between various entities in the U.S. and abroad. As part of this Blanket petition, the U.S. petitioning company will list all entities they seek to add and must provide evidence of the corporate relationships between each entity in order to establish affiliation, including documentation of the formation of each company, the common parent for the group of companies, and proof that each company is currently actively engaged in business.
The U.S. petitioning company must demonstrate that they meet the following L blanket eligibility requirements:
- The petitioner and each of the qualifying organizations are engaged in commercial trade or services.
- The petitioner has an office in the United States which has been doing business for one year or more.
- The petitioner has three or more domestic and foreign branches, subsidiaries, and affiliates.
- The petitioner meets one of the following criteria:
- It has obtained at least 10 L-1 approvals during the previous 12-month period;
- It has annual U.S. sales of at least $25 million; or
- It has a U.S. work force of at least 1,000 employees.
Blanket L-1 petitions are filed with USCIS under regular processing or premium processing service. Once USCIS has approved the Blanket petition, the petitioning company can transfer to the U.S. qualified employees from any of its foreign affiliates that are listed on the Blanket L approval. The initial period of validity of the Blanket L petition is 3 years, after which the company can extend the Blanket approval indefinitely. New companies can be added to the Blanket approval via a petition to amend the Blanket in order to transfer employees to or from that entity.
One substantive difference between the Blanket and individual L-1 petition process is that under the Blanket L process, in order to qualify for a specialized knowledge L-1B visa, the foreign national must possess a bachelor’s degree or an equivalent foreign degree in a field related to the position. There is no degree requirement for an individual L-1B visa petition.
Using the Blanket Approval — What’s the Advantage?
Companies with an approved Blanket L-1 petition benefit from a process that is generally quicker, less expensive, and has a more predictable outcome when transferring employees to the U.S. from abroad. Instead of the company filing an individual petition with USCIS for every employee they want to transfer, the employee schedules an appointment directly with the Consular post abroad, where they apply for the L-1 visa using a copy of the Blanket L approval notice along with supporting forms and documents. The Blanket L approval serves as proof of the qualifying corporate relationship, so long as the employer abroad and the future U.S. employer are both listed on the Blanket approval. Consular applications under the Blanket approval only need to show that the applicant meets the individual requirements – that they have worked for the foreign employer for at least one year out of the preceding three years, and that they have worked abroad for at least one year in an executive/managerial position or a position involving specialized knowledge and are coming to the U.S. to work in an executive/managerial or specialized knowledge capacity.
The primary advantage of the Blanket L process is that U.S. Consulates abroad do not have the same degree of concern about whether a foreign national claiming eligibility for an L-1B visa possesses the requisite specialized knowledge and is moving to a position in the U.S. that requires that specialized knowledge. As a result, visa denial rates for L-1B visa applications are significantly lower than denial rates for individual L-1B visa petitions filed with the USCIS. In addition, because applying under a Blanket approval sidesteps the USCIS, it avoids the lengthy and costly processing delays caused by having to respond to an RFE as well as the USCIS filing and premium processing fees.
The U.S. Department of State publishes annual visa issuance and refusal numbers. For Fiscal Year 2021, the Department of State received a total of 25,406 applications for L-1 visas. Consular posts issued 94.16% of those visas and refused 5.84%. These statistics encompass L-1 visa applications under both Blanket L approvals and USCIS approved individual L-1 petitions but still offer a useful metric when considering whether to pursue a Blanket L-1 approval for your Company.
If your company meets the Blanket L-1 requirements listed above, and transfers employees to the U.S. with any regularity, you should consider applying for a Blanket L-1 approval to streamline this process and provide greater outcome predictability. Contact your Parker Gallini immigration attorney for more information or to move forward with your company’s Blanket L-1 petition.