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L-1A's Family: Can I Work Or Go To School?

US Immigration Question:

I accompanied my husband who has an L-1 visa and I am staying in the US in L-2 status. Now I am thinking about either going to school or working. Do I need to get a different type of visa for those purposes? After I graduated from a 4-year college in Tokyo, I have worked for 7 years in a company.

Short Answer:

Aliens in L-2 status are not authorized to accept employment. The spouse and children of L-1 nonimmigrants may not accept employment unless they qualify independently for a classification in which employment is, or can be, authorized. L-2 aliens are permitted to study during their stay in the United States. If you study in L-2 status many schools offer you "in-state" residence tuition after 1 year in L status. Keep in mind, however, L-2 students do not qualify for practical training like F-1 students.

Detailed Answer:

Without more details it is difficult to give you an exact answer. For example, what is your primary wish, education or employment? How many years have you been in the United States in L-2 status? Is the L-1 visa an L-1A (7 year maximum stay in US) or an L-1B (5 year maximum stay in US)?

If saving money on tuition is important, it is important to note that many colleges and universities in California offer in-state residence tuition to the spouse and children of nonimmigrant workers if you are in L-2, H-4 and E status rather than F student status. Check with the school that you are interested in attending to see if maintaining L-2 status can save you tuition. Also, keep in mind that if you have a child in L-2 status who is approaching 21 years old, he/she needs to change to F status to continue his/her education beyond the age of 21.

Depending on your college degree, work experience, and job offer you might want to change your status to H-1B or E. This is especially important if the L-1A visa holder in your family is approaching the maximum length of stay in the US, or intends to depart prior to the completion of your work or studies. As a general rule, if you have a job related to your bachelor degree and the INS considers it to be a "specialty occupation," then it will permit you to "change your status" from L-2 to H-1B. Note that people in H-1B or E or L-1 status may attend school as long as it does not interfere with their employment.

An E working visa might be more appropriate if the company is controlled by Japanese nationals who do not have green cards. "Control" usually requires a minimum of 51% ownership. The two primary advantages E visa have over H-1B is (1) that there are no time limitations on E status, and (2) the US Labor Department does not interfere with minimum salary requirements, also known as the "prevailing wage" for the job.