When you are looking for an immigration option that will help you move to the United States, there can be a lot of confusion as to which visa is best suited for you and your situation. For those who are professionals or entrepreneurs, a work-based or entrepreneur-based visa may be the most viable immigration pathway, such as the popular EB-5 visa and the L-1 visa.

In this article, we’ll explore the differences between the EB-5 visa and the L-1 visa.

The EB-5 visa

The EB-5 visa is an entrepreneur immigrant visa that allows foreigners to immigrate to the United States with conditional permanent residency after making a minimum investment into a US government-approved project. Unlike with other visa types, there are few restrictions or requirements for applicants for this visa outside of the investment. The money for the investment can be obtained in any manner that is deemed legal and lawful. Many EB-5 visa recipients use savings, stocks and bonds, inheritance, and personal or business loans to amass the investment needed. No matter how the full amount of the investment is accrued, the applicant must be able to explicitly demonstrate the legal and lawful nature of the receipt of funds – even if they are as a result of a gift or donation.

The spouse and dependents (under 21) of an EB-5 visa recipient can expect to be granted conditional permanent residency also. The visa recipient, their spouse, and any dependents become eligible to remove the conditionality of their status two years after the visas are issued. The only real restriction for the EB-5 visa? The applicant may need to be over 18 years of age, not for the visa itself, but for the legal signing of the documents regarding the investment and the invested project. Although someone under 18 can technically apply for an EB-5 visa, they will likely be unable to legally complete any of the other visa-related requirements.

How can I apply for the EB-5 visa?

It is advised that anyone considering applying for the EB-5 visa should do so only under the advisement of an experienced EB-5 lawyer and approved regional center. A regional center is a US government-approved organization that works with EB-5 applicants to partner them with approved projects. There is quite a large amount of data regarding the project that must be submitted with the EB-5 application, namely, data that shows that the project will create at least 10 jobs for those eligible to work in the United States. For those who apply for this visa alone, the data, financial, and legal information required often pose a significant challenge to understand and organize without guidance. A regional center has gathered the relevant data for specific projects and gotten it approved by the US government, relieving the applicant of that responsibility.

Additionally, working with a team of lawyers and a regional center helps decrease the chances of visa rejection due to missing or inaccurate information, application non-compliance, or other errors. It is highly recommended that you work with an EB-5 regional center if you are considering applying for the EB-5 entrepreneur visa.

Here is a simple breakdown of the EB-5 visa process:

  • EB-5 project selection
  • I-526 petition and EB-5 investment
  • Petition approval and 2-year conditional green card issued
  • Removing conditional status for unconditional permanent residency with I-829 petition

The L-1 visa

The L-1 visa allows for the temporary transfer of managers, executives or specialized knowledge employees to the United States. The employee is only eligible if they are to work with an office of their same employer, its parent company, branch, or affiliate. Also referred to as an intracompany transfer visa, L-1 visa holders are generally granted legal status for one year to three years at a time.

In order to be eligible for this visa, the employee must have been employed with the company for at least a year and not have worked in the United States within the three years prior to their petition. The employee and petitioning company must also be able to support the employee’s position level, certifying that they are an executive, manager, or special knowledge employee. Only these three levels of employee are qualified to apply for this visa type.

An L-1 visa holder is classified under two categories, L-1A and L-1 B. Only executives and managers receive L-1A visas, while specialized knowledge employees receive L-1B visas. An employee can live and work in the United States for up seven years under an L-1A visa (renewable every one-three years), while an L-1B visa holder can only renew for up to five years. After the designated period of time has expired, employees can reapply for their L-1 visa only after spending one year outside of the United States. If they intend to work for the same company, they must remain under this company’s employment for the entire year. If they have switched companies, they must ensure that their new place of employment has a U.S. office that qualifies under the visa requirements.

L-1 visa holders can take their spouses and dependents (under 21) with them to the United States. Dependants are allowed to study and spouses can apply for work authorization to gain lawful employment. Some visa holders choose to apply for adjustment of status while they are living in the United States in order to become permanent residents.

How to apply for the L-1 visa

Once an employee has qualified for an L-1 visa, the petitioning process is as follows:

  • Complete the Form I-129, Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker. 
  • Submit the filing fee(s). 
  • Submit supporting documentation. 
  • Submit a duplicate copy of the Form I-129 and all supporting documentation.
  • Sign and file the Form I-129.

You’ll then receive a receipt notice for Form I-129, Petition for Nonimmigrant Worker, and a notice for a biometrics appointment date. Once you have completed your biometrics appointment, your employer will receive a written notice of a decision.

What is your best immigration option?

Ultimately, you’ll need to consult with immigration lawyers to determine which visa type is the best fit for you. Although there are pros and cons to each visa, the EB-5 entrepreneur has fewer requirements than that of the L-1 visa. If you are not currently employed by a company with a qualifying office in the United States or are employed by one but have not been working there for one year, you cannot apply for the L-1 visa. With the EB-5 visa, once the minimum investment is made into an approved project, any person (preferably over the age of 18) is eligible for EB-5 visa approval. Click here to find out more about the EB-5 entrepreneur visa.