Business realities and immigration expectations don’t match. In particular, L-1A visas for start-ups and small businesses feel like fitting a square peg in a round hole.
The main problem is that the L-1A visa was NOT intended for start-ups. This visa was created in 1970 to facilitate greater investment in the United States by multinational companies. So, the L-1A was created for BIG companies. We are taking about companies with dozens of positions.
Some of the challenges that start-ups and small companies face when doing an L-1A:
Challenge #1: organizational structure. In a small business, everyone does multiple jobs. Job titles really don’t matter. Formal or documented job duties? “Who has time for that”—a typical business owner would say. “We’re too busy to write them down, and it’s a waste of time”. However, the USCIS THINKS that small companies are rationally and neatly arranged in a structural hierarchy. They expect to see an organization with very well-defined and documented roles and responsibilities.
Challenge #2: Size. The ideal start-up has no corporate office and no employees. Small companies stay lean by hiring part-time employees whenever possible. On the contrary, An L-1A beneficiary requires SOLID support from subordinate employees. There’s no hard and fast rule, but as a rule of thumb, 4 full-time subordinates is a good starting point for the USCIS by the end of the first 12 months.
Challenge #3. Salaries. Start-up and small business owners work with no salary until their companies generate cash flow to pay them. Plus, staff members may be paid below-market wages. On the other hand, the USCIS expects the managers, executives, and subordinates to earn a salary commensurate with the industry standard. “How am I supposed to pay those salaries, I have a small company” is the number one pushback we get from clients when they learn the reality of the L-1A.
Challenge #4. Finances. Many small businesses and start-ups are launched and operated with very little money. Meanwhile, the USCIS will question the viability of the US business - and its ability to pay the beneficiary’s salary.
Furthermore, small businesses will rely on virtual offices or working from home trends. This practice, which is fairly common among start-ups and small operations, generally does not pass muster with immigration authorities.
What other challenges do small businesses face when doing an L-1A?
I could go on and on comparing immigration expectations against business realities. Acknowledging those differences and embracing them, in the end, is what makes our work stand out. For 13+ years, I have been personally obsessed with understanding what immigration authorities want and how they think. Closely monitoring adjudications, RFEs, AND NOIDS consistently allows the Visa Business Plans team to reshape our projects in response to the trends we identify when working on business plans for visa applications. If you share our passion for excellence, give us a try. You won’t look back.
If you have a Request for Evidence (RFE) or a case that needs an L-1A Visa Business Plan, give us a call.