Top 5 Topics Your L1 Business Plan Should Cover and Why
If you want a winning petition fortified with a targeted L1 Business Plan, you must effectively cover these 5 topics. Use this article as a strategy guide for crafting an L1 Business Plan, and you will be able to navigate USCIS requirements. Get educated, focus on the advice, and avoid getting rejected.
Here are the general guidelines for an L1 visa straight from USCIS.
- Are you a manager, executive, or a person with “specialized knowledge” employed by a foreign business entity? (Proving this is the tricky part we will cover later in this article)
- Have you been working abroad for at least one continuous year within the past 3 years? (This could be a US company with a foreign office or a completely foreign company.)
- Is your company abroad related to the US business you will establish? Will the foreign entity continue to do business? (This is often overlooked, but we will cover how to do this properly later in this article).
- Will you be coming to the US to open a new office location for your company? Will the new office be active and operating shortly after you arrive in the US as an L-1 recipient? (If the domestic company is operating already, this is easy. If not, then credible projections are important).
There are actually two types of L1 visas.
- The L1A is for managers and executives.
- The L1B is for specialized knowledge professionals.
L1A: Transferring Manager or Executive to Domestic Office.
What does that mean? USCIS hasn’t been totally clear in their stated requirements, but they continue to clarify each and every time they issue an RFE or denial. This is one major reason why you want the business plan written in a way that strongly supports your L1 visa.
Essentially, what USCIS is looking for is executive control over major decisions for the domestic operations or extensive managerial duties over people or contracts with little or no oversight from others. It is for this reason that there are no hard-set planned personnel requirements for L1A. A department manager may manage a dozen or more employees of the company, or a contract manager may manage contractor relations that are vital to the business.
For example, if you manage contracts for three-component suppliers that are required to make your company’s widgets, but you have no employees on staff, you could still be considered an important manager of the company if you clearly make this case in the business plan. If the petitioner does not manage staff and does not possess specialized knowledge, then it is critically important to show that their function is mostly autonomous with a major impact on the business.
- If the petitioner reports to their direct boss every day, then an L1A visa may not work.
- If the petitioner creates reports on their division’s employees’ or contractors’ performance that are routinely reviewed by the executive team, then USCIS will be more likely to look favorably on the application.
L1B: Specialized Knowledge Worker
This can also be tricky as USCIS isn’t completely clear outside of denials or RFEs. H1Bs are highly skilled workers, but that visa category has a lot of limitations. L1B specialized knowledge workers should raise that bar. It isn’t enough to say that the petitioner has an educational background to support the role. Petitioners must also demonstrate that unique work experience makes them not just an ideal candidate but one critical for the ongoing operations of the company.
USCIS considers specialized knowledge as either:
1. Special knowledge of the petitioning employer’s product, service research, equipment, techniques, management, or other interests and their application in international markets
2. An advanced level of knowledge or expertise in the employing organization’s processes or procedures.
Regardless of L1A or L1B, USCIS is looking for someone that has worked for at least one year at a foreign office within the company and has done so in the same or similar capacity that they will be operating in the new domestic role.
Now that you know the USCIS requirements, let’s cover how to present well-crafted evidence to overcome these hurdles. A majority of this information is applicable to all L1s, but important distinctions will be made for the L1A and L1B where appropriate.
This article is based not only on the broad requirements but many Requests for Evidence through the years. I’m glad that I have been sought out when an RFE comes in, but let’s be proactive.
L1 Business Plan Success Strategy
As with any business plan, a business plan written to strongly support an L1 petition should include the overall goals and operation of the domestic business. One of the things that makes an L1 visa business plan unique is that it dives into areas that the petitioner will be responsible for in greater detail. For example, if they manage a fulfillment team, the plan should cover how that team works and how it is vital to the success of the company.
Financial projections and marketing analysis should also be done but not to the extent that it takes away from the portion of the business plan that describes how the L1 petitioner will make the company successful. In the case of an L1B specialized knowledge worker, the business plan should cover why that specialized knowledge is critical to the success of the domestic operations of the business. Using our fulfillment example, perhaps that individual possesses specialized knowledge on the construction of a unique piece of equipment and that specialized knowledge cannot easily be replicated.
How To Make Use Of Important Elements Within An L1 Business Plan
This is essentially a meta topic of all other others. Consider it a bonus. Getting this right will make your visa process go a lot smoother because you will make the adjudicator’s job easier. If you ask them to hunt for important information, you may just get an RFE on information buried in the document.
The Executive Summary is an overall snapshot of the entire business plan. It is typically 1 to 3 pages. Although the Executive Summary does not go into great tactical detail, it is an important strategic statement for the intentions of the business and the critical role of the petitioner. A complete business plan goes into great detail on all areas of the business now and into a few years in the future. Executive Summaries are not only written to summarize the complete business plan, they are also written for the intended reader of the document. In the case of an L1 visa petition – it is the immigration adjudicator that needs to review, assess, approve, deny, or request more evidence if it is not present.
It is this first impression that must be made well.
The Executive Summary should cover a bit about the foreign company or office and the relation to the domestic company or office. The role of the L1 petitioner should be covered, including managerial responsibilities or application of specialized knowledge, along with the objective of the domestic office and its relation to the mission of the company.
A basic business plan will cover the highlights of the business and projects. A really strong L1 business plan will address each of the four USCIS requirements listed above with at least 2-3 sentences and refer to later sections for greater detail.
L1 Business Plan Key Topic #1
It should be obvious that the business location is in the United States. What may not be obvious is that the business facility at that location should be adequate for the petitioner to perform their responsibilities. Using our fulfillment example again – the business location should have an adequate assembly, storage, and shipping space for the construction and delivery of physical goods. In the case of a new office, details on the physical location lease or construction should be provided.
Not knowing the actual location may be a red flag. Your time may be better spent on a B1 visa researching locations and leases rather than pursuing an L1 right away. Consult your business immigration attorney if this applies to you.
L1 Business Plan Key Topic #2
This is arguably one of the most vital sections of an L1 visa business plan. Partly because it is briefly touched upon or omitted in many other types of business plans, this is the opportunity to really back up the visa petition. Although this is concisely summarized in the executive summary, this is where greater detail is added should the adjudicating authority want to dig deeper. The duties and responsibilities should be laid out clearly. Feedback from USCIS has also highlighted the need to see how the petitioner would spend their day, week, and year. If the L1A manager will be spending time with the executive team as well as employee development – this should be clear. Don’t skimp on this. Many RFEs on L1 petitions essentially derive from “what will this person do and how does it align with managerial duties or specialized knowledge.” Of course, employment history should also be given here to show a natural fit for this job as well as to highlight at least one year or more of work with the same company outside of the United States.
Where the L1A will lean more on the personnel plan, this section is vitally important for an L1B petitioner. This is a chance to really show how the knowledge is specialized and cannot be easily replicated or replaced.
L1 Business Plan Key Topic #3
The personnel section of the business plan can be tricky to write when the opening of a US office hasn’t happened yet or, at the time of writing the business plan, no physical office has been secured and some or all of the new employees don’t exist yet. How can someone show managerial or executive duties over a location or people that do not exist? This is where projections come in the play. Be prepared to back up new office actions in a year for your L1 visa renewal later. This section should also tie into the job description if it is the petitioner’s responsibility.
It is completely acceptable to state that you will be setting up a new office with supporting systems as well as interviewing and hiring new people in the first year and then shifting to managing that personnel later on. If you do not expressly state the personnel plan and tie it into the petitioner’s job description, you are leaving a hole that may result in a denial or RFE.
L1 Business Plan Key Topic #4
Although this section is not a large one, it is nonetheless vital for an L1 petition. It should show the foreign company or office is related to the domestic company or office. It should be clear that this is the same company operating in different locations. Ensure your nomenclature is consistent. Don’t refer to a business name in one section and a different division name in another section of your business plan unless you are very clear on the distinction. This is your chance to set it straight because any ambiguity may cause confusion and possibly a denial or an RFE. A diagram can be very helpful.
Unlike a business plan for an E2 visa, an L1 business plan does not need to present a lot of details on the investment and ownership of the company. In some circumstances, it is actually preferable to leave the company ownership or capitalization tables out completely.
L1 Business Plan Key Topic #5
If the petitioner will be a vital part of a new domestic office for the foreign company, good marketing analysis is a requirement. It should be easily apparent that the foreign company has looked into the opportunity and need to open an office in the United States. This could include potential domestic market demand for a product or service that the foreign company provides, or it could be to leverage American talent or better manage domestic contractor relations to support a greater need in the foreign market. It is not a requirement for the parent company abroad to have the same operations as the domestic company, but the overall mission and business model should be congruent.
L1A and L1B visas are a great domestic employment option for those that can get them.
The similarity with H1 and E2 visas with the lack of those associated limitations also makes it at risk for abuse. Your best chance of success will come from ensuring that you meet the requirements, working with an experienced immigration attorney, and providing a business plan that supports the petition with the necessary evidence.