If you currently hold an L1 visa and want to change your status to H1B visa, or if you are an employer who is planning to hire an L1 visa holder, these are the things you need to be aware of:
1. An L1 visa holder can change his/her status to H1B, but will still be subject to H1B CAP.
“Change of status” only means that the applicant does not need to travel to his/her home country to get a new H1B visa stamp. He/she can change status from L1 to H1B within the United States. But this is a different issue from H1B CAP. If the applicant never had an H1B before, he/she will still be subject to the CAP. So, what usually happens is that one currently works on L1B, on April 1, he/she files an H1B petition. If the petition is approved, the applicant will work on L1B until September 30, and switch to the H1B sponsor company on October 1. If the petition is denied or the applicant was not selected for the lottery, the L1 visa is still valid, provided that the applicant still works for the same employer. Therefore, he/she can try again next year for H1B or seek for alternatives to H1B.
2. The timing of changing the employer is very important.
If the applicant’s employment with the current employer is terminated before September 30, he/she will be out of status immediately; there is no 10-day “grace period” in case of an early termination. If the applicant becomes out of status, he/she may face difficulty applying for a visa in the future, or worse, the Change of Status application will be denied. Therefore, one needs to be careful in changing the employers, and make sure that he/she stays on payroll of the present company until September 30.
3. Be aware of the remaining time on H1B visa.
H1B has a maximum period of 6 years, and this includes any time spent in the U.S. under L1 visa. Therefore, if the applicant has already spent 4 years in the U.S. under L1, he/she will only get 2 year H1B, as opposed to 3 year + 3 year extension. The only way to extend his/her H1B will be to file for green card application soon.
Either you are the visa applicant or the employer trying to hire the visa applicant, be aware of these often overlooked traps of changing status from L1 to H1B, so that you can avoid unnecessary and unpleasant surprises.