L1A Manager’s Role Relevant within Company as a Whole

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) recently designated an Administrative Appeals Office (AAO) decision on L1A functional managers as binding precedent. The case involved a small U.S. subsidiary of a large Japanese company. The AAO found that, in order to determine whether a person truly is serving as a functional manager, the employee’s role within the entire company’s structure must be taken into consideration.

Background on L1A Functional Managers

The L1A category is designed to allow multinational companies to transfer managers and executives to a U.S. parent, subsidiary, or affiliate. An L1A manager is typically someone who manages other employees within the company. However, the L1A category can also be used for a functional manager – that is, an employee who manages an essential function within the organization. One major hurdle in getting an L1A petition approved for a functional manager, however, is that the petitioner must demonstrate how the beneficiary will primarily manage the essential function, as opposed to actually performing the essential function.

USCIS Denies Petition Based on Small Number of U.S. Staff

The AAO case, Matter of Z-A-, Inc., involved the denial of an L1A extension filed on behalf of the vice president and chief operating officer (COO) of the petitioning U.S. entity. He was responsible for running the U.S. operation, including directing and managing the company’s financial, legal, administrative, and sales activities. He reported to the highest levels within the overseas parent company. The U.S. staff, however, consisted of only two employees besides the beneficiary. This small staff led the USCIS to conclude that the petitioning company lacked the organizational structure to support a position that was primarily managerial in nature. Rather, the USCIS asserted that the beneficiary’s duties were primarily sales related.

Background on L1A Beneficiary

The U.S. petitioner established that eight employees of the foreign parent supported the beneficiary’s work in the United States. The company asserted that the beneficiary managed the essential function of market development in the Americas and had influence over the highest level of decision-making within the company regarding developing the U.S. market. The petitioner further argued that it was reasonable to utilize foreign staff members to directly and exclusively support the U.S. company’s market development efforts.

AAO Mandates USCIS to Consider Beneficiary’s Role in Whole Organization

The standard analysis of whether an employee is primarily managerial includes consideration of work delegated to others that relieves the beneficiary from performing non-managerial tasks. Based in large part on this issue, the USCIS denied the case after focusing heavily on the small size of the petitioning U.S. entity. The AAO determined, however, that the USCIS had failed to give sufficient consideration to the way in which the U.S. entity and the beneficiary fit into and were supported by the organization as a whole.

The fact that the U.S. entity only had a few employees did not mean, in this case, that the beneficiary was performing the day-to-day operational duties rather than managing a function. The AAO ultimately determined that the L1A was appropriate, given his responsibility for managing the implementation of all policies and strategies, as well as goal setting for the import, sales, and marketing of the parent company’s products.


In recent years, L-1 petitions have been subject to heightened levels of scrutiny. However, for many multinational companies – including those with relatively small offices in the United States – it is still possible to present strong cases to the USCIS by making legal arguments that remain within the framework of the law.


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Disclaimer: The information provided here is of a general nature and may not apply to any specific or particular circumstance. It is not to be construed as legal advice nor presumed indefinitely up to date.