Over the past few decades, the United States and Colombian governments have worked closely together to improve the security, political and economic situation in Colombia.  Before the Covid-19 pandemic and the Venezuelan refugee crisis, the Colombian economy had experienced 20 years of unprecedented growth.  The Covid-19 pandemic hit Colombia very hard, causing the largest recession in over 50 years.  GDP contracted 6.8% in 2020.  As vaccines are rolled out to the general population, the Colombian economy is expected to rebound strongly in 2021-2022. 

The United States has a long and checkered relationship with the Republic of Colombia.  The US was one of the first countries to acknowledge Colombia’s independence from Spain and has maintained a treaty of commerce and navigation with Colombia since June 10, 1848.  However, it later helped Panama secede from Colombia in the early 20th century, going so far as to send US Naval Warships to prevent Colombia from retaking the territory.  It then had the Panama government grant the US a perpetual lease on the land around the canal, called the Panama Canal Zone.  In 1999, after over a decade-long Colombian narco-war stoked by American demand for Colombian cocaine, then presidents Andres Pastrana and Bill Clinton announced Plan Colombia, which was envisioned by Pastrana as a type of “Marshall Plan for Colombia.”  The United States would provide developmental aid, anti-narcotics and military assistance to the Colombian government.  The goal was to combat drug trafficking and left-wing guerilla groups in the country, and try to address the deep inequities in Colombian society that helped sustain these groups.  The plan has been relatively successful, with drug production cut in half between 2001-2012 (although it is now on the rise again) and the main left-wing paramilitary, the FARC, signing a peace agreement with the Colombian government in 2017.  As a result of this relative period of stability, the Colombian economy expanded and poverty was cut in half between 2009-2019.  Today the United States is Colombia’s largest trading partner.  Because of these trading ties, there are many employment-based immigration options for Colombian nationals.  We will explore some of these options below.

E1/E2 Treaty Trader Visas

The first employment-based immigration option for Colombian nationals are the Treaty Trader E1/E2 visas. A Colombian applicant who wishes to travel to the U.S. for substantial trade between the U.S. and Colombia (including trade in services or technology) or to develop and direct the operations of an enterprise in which the Colombian applicant has invested or is in the process of investing a substantial amount of capital, may apply for a Treaty Trader (E-1) or Treaty Investor (E-2) visa.

The E-1 nonimmigrant classification allows a national of a treaty country (a country with which the United States maintains a treaty of commerce and navigation, or which the United States maintains a qualifying international agreement, or which has been deemed a qualifying country by legislation) to be admitted to the United States solely to engage in international trade on his or her own behalf.  Certain employees of such a person or of a qualifying organization may also be eligible for this classification.  For example, an E-1 treaty trader could be a Colombian coffee grower or flower grower (Colombia is the world’s largest exporter of both products) who is coming to the United States to sell their product to US companies or distributors.  

The E-2 nonimmigrant classification, on the other hand, allows a national of a treaty country (a country with which the United States maintains a treaty of commerce and navigation, or with which the United States maintains a qualifying international agreement, or which has been deemed a qualifying country by legislation) to be admitted to the United States when investing a substantial amount of capital in a U.S. business. Certain employees of such a person or of a qualifying organization may also be eligible for this classification.  For example, a Colombian flower company might want to purchase a similar business in California for distribution of their product or to open a retailing operation of their own in the United States.  In this case, the Colombian national could apply for an E-2 visa.  

The second employment-based immigration option for Colombian nationals are the L1A and L1B visas.  L-1A and L-1B visas are available for temporary intracompany transferees who work in managerial positions or have specialized knowledge.

L-1A and L-1B visas may be issued when an employer files a petition to obtain authorization for qualified employees to be allowed to work and live in the United States.

  • The L-1A visa is for intracompany transferees who work in managerial or executive positions in a company that is located outside the United States.
  • The L-1B visa is for intracompany transferees who work in positions requiring specialized knowledge.

Establishing New Offices

Foreign employers seeking to send an employee to the United States as an executive or manager to establish a new office must show:

  • They have a physical location for the new office;
  • The employee has been employed as an executive or manager for one continuous year in the three years before filing the petition; and
  • The new office will support an executive or managerial position within one year of the approval of the petition.

L-1A Classification

The L-1A nonimmigrant classification enables a U.S. employer to transfer an executive or manager from one of its affiliated foreign offices to one of its offices in the United States. This classification also enables a foreign company that does not yet have an affiliated U.S. office to send an executive or manager to the United States with the purpose of establishing one. 

To qualify, the applicant must:

  • Generally have been working for a qualifying organization abroad for one continuous year within the three years immediately before your admission to the United States; and
  • Be seeking to enter the United States to provide service in an executive or managerial capacity for a branch of the same employer or one of its qualifying organizations. 

Executive capacity generally refers to the manager’s ability to make a wide range of decisions without much oversight.

Managerial capacity generally refers to the ability to supervise and control the work of professional employees and to manage the organization, or a department, subdivision, function, or component of the organization. It may also refer to the applicant’s ability to manage an essential function of the organization at a high level, without direct supervision of others. (See section 101(a)(44) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, as amended, and 8 CFR 214.2(l)(1)(ii) for complete definitions.)

L-1B classification

The L-1B nonimmigrant classification enables a U.S. employer to transfer a professional employee with specialized knowledge relating to the organization’s interests from one of its affiliated foreign offices to one of its offices in the United States. This classification also enables a foreign company that does not yet have an affiliated U.S. office to send a specialized knowledge employee to the United States to help establish one. 

To qualify, the applicant must:

  • Generally have been working for a qualifying organization abroad for one continuous year within the three years immediately before their admission to the United States; and
  • Be seeking to enter the United States to provide services in a specialized knowledge capacity to a branch of the same employer or one of its qualifying organizations.

Specialized knowledge either means knowledge you have about the petitioning organization’s product, service, research, equipment, techniques, management, or other interests and its application in international markets, or an advanced level of knowledge or expertise in the organization’s processes and procedures. (See 8 CFR 214.2(l)(1)(ii)(D).)

There are many other employment-based immigration options for Colombian nationals, including

  • H1B Specialized Knowledge non-immigrant work visa 
  • EB1 Extraordinary Ability immigrant visa
  • EB2 Exceptional Ability immigrant visa
  • EB2 National Interest Waiver immigrant visa
  • EB3 Skilled Worker immigrant immigrant visa
  • EB5 Investor immigrant visa

If you are a Colombian national with an advanced degree, work for, manage, or own a business that has operations in the United States, or a business that plans to have operations in the United States, you could be eligible for one of these employment-based immigration options for Colombian nationals.  Feel free to call our office at 215-330-5244 to discuss your eligibility. 

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