Real estate has always been a thriving sector in the US. It makes up a significant portion of the economy, and the livelihood of millions of people associated with the real estate industry. This is not just people from the US. Few Americans know that the credit for some of the most spectacular developments on US soil (in recent history) goes to foreign real estate developers. Canada-based Oxford Properties has a proximity advantage, but Hong Kong/London-based Swire Properties and South Korea-based Hanjin Group, with far-off headquarters, also have a significant presence in the US real estate sector.
But the process of penetrating and navigating the US real estate sector, especially when deals worth millions of dollars are at stake, can be challenging. The companies need to bring their top talent, especially individuals familiar with the US real estate market, into the US to take the reins of development projects. They also need to build relationships with the right businesses (contractors, insurers, hardware suppliers, etc.) here in the US.
It all starts with bringing the right individuals from the home country to the US. This is where the L-1 Visa for Intracompany Transferees comes into play.
Whether or not it was created for it, the L-1 Visa serves this purpose quite efficiently. It’s a temporary (or nonimmigrant) visa that facilities international “intracompany” transfers. It allows a US company (based in another country) to transfer employees from their foreign headquarters to the US through an L-1 visa. The visa is very flexible about the company structure. The US company applying for L-1 to initiate intracompany transfers from home country to the US (using an L-1 visa) can be a daughter company, an affiliate business, or even an international branch.
But it’s not for everyone and comes with certain stipulations. And there are two types of L-1 visas.
L-1A is for the executive or managerial staff.
L-1B, on the other hand, is for employees with specialized knowledge. It might seem more accommodating than the L-1A, supporting a broader range of employees, but the company petitioning for this visa has to offer proof to the USCIS regarding the employee’s specialized knowledge.
There are two main stipulations foreign real estate developers need to know about:
• The employee must have worked for at least a year in the past three years prior to the visa petition application
• The visa is only for a year; the company can then ask for extensions (if it can justify it)
The extension is offered for two years, and the total number of extensions is capped at three for L-1A visa holders and two for L-1B. The employees with these visas can apply for US citizenship like most other temporary visa holders.
Let’s say an India-based construction company wishes to enter New York’s real estate market. They open a new branch in NYC and start looking into prospects and offering contracts. If they secure a development project, they can petition the USCIS for L-1A and L-1B visas for the relevant personnel they wish to bring over to oversee the project.
If the project takes longer than a year and the branch has established a stronger presence in the US and hired employees, it is justified in applying for an extension for those L-1 visas. But if the project is over and the company doesn’t have another project, it might not be able to secure an extension for the L-1 visas (maybe some of them).
The L-1 visa is not specific to the real estate sector or the development industry. But the requirements, especially for securing an L-1B visa, might vary from industry to industry. So foreign real estate developers should look into specifics related to them and explore other visa options to bring their overseas talent to the US.
If you have questions or want to access additional information about US or Canadian Immigration