The L1 Visa – Using Your South African Business To Enter The USA

Are you currently a business owner in South Africa and considering a move to the United States of America? Whatever your reasons may be for considering such a move, your South African business may your ticket to make that idea a reality. Here’s how…

This opportunity comes to you in the form of an L1 visa, of which there are two types:

  1. The L-1A visa is for “Managers” and “Executives” of businesses, including of course the owners of such businesses.
  2. The L-1B visa is available to those persons who have “Specialized Knowledge” regarding the business that is deemed to be essential to its success in the U.S.A.

How do I qualify for the L1 visa?

Below are a few of the major requirements to qualify for an L-1A or L-1B Intra-Company Transfer Visa:

  • If you are the owner of the South African business, the business must have been operational for at least one year prior to applying for the visa. This will need to be supported by evidentiary documentation such as taxes.
  • If you are the employee of the foreign company, and wish to be petitioned as an executive, manager, or person with specialized knowledge of the company, being sent to the U.S. to open the branch or subsidiary, then you must evidence that you have worked for the company for at least one out of the last three years. Note that an L-1 beneficiary transferee does not have to work in the same capacity in the U.S. as he/she did abroad however he/she must have worked in one of those three positions abroad and must be entering to work in one of those three capacities in the U.S. Note that the term employee can include a majority shareholder of both companies, a sole stockholder, and a sole proprietor as well. The terms executive, manager, and specialized knowledge each have specific regulatory definitions.
  • Throughout your stay in the U.S. on the L visa, the South African business which is the principal business used to create the U.S. branch or subsidiary must remain operational. This will have to be evidenced when applying for future extensions of the L visa.
  • In setting up a new office in the U.S., the South African based company and the new U.S. Company must be related via ownership. For example, a majority stock ownership in both companies would be sufficient. Note that joint ventures and group ownerships can qualify as well in certain instances. These issues can get complex so it is a good idea to consult an immigration attorney that is familiar with the L-1 process.
  • The South African and U.S. based companies need not be engaged in the same industry or line of business. Additionally, the size of the organizations does not technically matter, however there are several practical implications. With the L visa there is no minimum amount of money that needs to be invested into the U.S. Company, although evidence will have to be shown that sufficient funds are available to operate the U.S. Company appropriately.

What are some of the benefits of the L1 visa?

  • As an L-1A or L-1B visa holder you may bring your spouse and children under the age of 21 along with you to live in the U.S. as long as your L visa is valid. In addition, your spouse is free to accept any employment in the U.S.
  • Under the L-1A visa you will be entitled to remain in the U.S. for a total of up to seven years, and under the L-1B visa up to a total of five years. Note that while maintaining your non-immigrant L visa status in the U.S. you may legally apply for permanent resident status as the L visa allows for dual intent. If you receive permanent residence status then you are no longer bound by the strictures of the L visa, and are lawfully entitled to reside in the U.S. permanently, barring any disqualifying issues.

The L1 visa provides great opportunities for South African business persons to enter the U.S. and establish branch or subsidiary businesses in the U.S.

Note that these are only a few of the major issues regarding the L1 visa, however it is not intended to be immigration advice as the specific facts of each individual case need to be considered and changes in the law may occur at any time.

About the Author: Attorney Hendrik Pretorius is a South African born immigration attorney with ImmiPartner in the U.S.A. Attorney Pretorius focuses on serving the needs of fellow South Africans, especially business owners and their employees, in both English and Afrikaans. If you have any questions for Hendrik feel free to contact him via e-mail at or visit Hendrik’s LinkedIn profile.

Please share this information...
  • Hi fellow South Africans. We are interested in immigrating to the US to start a business. Can someone with personal L-1 Visa experience perhaps offer some advise or opinion on the process. We are aware that attorneys assist the process however at high fees. Any advise from people who have personally been down that route would be most welcome.

  • Hi everyone. I am currently looking at immigrating to the US using my business as a vehicle to do so. I think I would be able to go the L1A route as I’m a part owner of the business.

    Any advice on this would be much appreciated and things to watch out for and to consider.


    • Hi Christopher. As far as I understand as a non-attorney, the L1 is one of the best options available these days. That said, I am under the impression that it is best to work with an immigration attorney on this one.

  • Hello, Thanks for sharing the blog about L1 Visa. Your Blog is very useful for the business person who think about moving to South Africa to USA. Because In this article, you have explained the types of L1 visa, requirement to qualifying for it, and benefits of it. Thank you and Keep sharing!

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