What is the E-3 visa?
The E-3 visa or the Specialty Occupation Professionals from Australia is a U.S work visa dedicated to Australian citizens. In 2005, the U.S and Australia entered into the Australia – U.S Free Trade Agreement (AUSFTA). Due to that, they created a specialty visa which only highly qualified Australian citizens can get.
Each year, only 10,500 of E-3 visas are given by the U.S to Australians. They are reserved for people who are professionals in a specialty occupation. A specialty occupation is defined as:
- One that requires higher education qualifications such as a Bachelor’s, Master’s or a Doctoral Degree
- One that has a body of specialized knowledge and is practical
This means that only people who have a certain amount of work experience and educational qualifications can get the E-3 visa. The work experience can substitute educational qualifications if you have worked more than 10 years in that occupation. Additionally, if the occupation or profession requires licensing, the applicant must also have the necessary credentials.
The U.S government does not necessarily specify which professions qualify as specialty occupations, but examples of such jobs include: business managers, engineers, mathematicians, computer scientists, medical practitioners, political scientists, as well as art related professions.
What are the E-3 visa requirements?
E-3 visa applicants must fulfill some criteria and requirements to be eligible to apply for the visa. These requirements are as follows:
- The applicant must be an Australian citizen. Those who have Australian permanent residence do not qualify and cannot apply for the E-3 visa
- The applicant must have a job offer in the U.S.
- The job offer must be in a specialty occupation
- The applicant must have the educational and job experience qualifications to be a specialty occupation worker
- The applicant must have the necessary licenses to practice the specialty occupation, if applicable
If you meet these requirements, then you are eligible to apply for the visa. The visa application will be processed and a response will be given to you. If you get the visa, that does not necessarily guarantee you entry into the U.S. That is at the discretion of the immigration officials at any U.S point of entry. If they see fit to not allow you entry into the country, you will be returned to Australia.
How to apply for the E-3 visa?
Applying for the E-3 visa requires you and your U.S employer to go through several steps. The first prerequisite is for you to find a job in the U.S. You can apply from Australia and have Skype interviews, until you find a position that you think is favorable. When you get the offer for your employment and accept it, that is when you and your employer can start the E-3 visa application procedure.
Employer Application Steps
Labor Condition Application (LCA)
To be allowed to hire foreign nationals, employers in the U.S are required to obtain a Labor Condition Application from the U.S Department of Labor (DOL). The LCA certification ensures that by hiring a foreign national, employers are not negatively affecting the salary and working conditions of U.S employees. In addition, employers must prove that they could not find a suitable or available U.S employee for the position.
For the E-3 visa, only the LCA is required. Employers are not required to file Form I-129, Petition for Non-immigrant Workers with the U.S Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).
The LCA certifies that you as the employee will get a fair prevailing salary, which means that you will be paid equally as a U.S employee would. In addition, it proves that your working conditions will be the same as those of U.S employees, and that you are not being exploited.
Your employer must file ETA Form 9035 to the Department of Labor. The LCA is filed at no cost, and takes 5 to 10 business days to be processed. If it is rejected, your employer has the right to appeal and amend the application. However, if the LCA is approved, you as the applicant can now start the application procedure for the E-3 visa.
Employee (Australian Citizen) Application Steps
After the U.S employer gets the LCA, the applicant can begin the process to obtain the E-3 visa. The steps are as follows:
- File Form DS-160, Nonimmigrant Visa Application This form will ask you to provide information about you and your intent for going to the U.S. The form will be used to evaluate your case by the U.S Embassy. When you complete this form, you will get a confirmation page and code which you will need for later on.
- Have one photograph according to the Photo Requirements. You will need to upload the photo in the DS-160 form as well as have it with you when you go for your interview.
- Pay the visa application fees. The application fee for the E-3 visa is $205. You must pay this fee and get the receipt which you will need later. There are no other fees which you must pay for this visa, since there are no visa issuance or reciprocity fees.
- Schedule your visa interview. All applicants between 13 and 80 years old are required to have interviews. It is recommended that you schedule yours as early as possible to avoid long waits due to the U.S Embassy workload. When you schedule the interview, you will get a visa appointment letter.
- Prepare a file with your documents. You will need these documents for the interview to strengthen your application.
Have the following documents with you:
- Your valid passport
- A photograph
- The Form DS-160 confirmation page
- The receipt for your visa application fee payment
- The visa appointment letter
- Letter from your employer confirming they have offered you the job and also job description and salary
- The Form ETA 9035, which proves your employer has LCA certification
- Your qualifications to prove you are in a specialty occupation such as:
- Diplomas for your degrees
- Certificates or licenses for your profession (if applicable)
- Letters from previous employers to prove work experience
- Proof that you intend to return to your home country after your work contract expires, such as:
- Property deeds
- Apartment lease
- Bank accounts, etc.
- Attend your scheduled interview. The interview is one of the most important parts of your application. A U.S Embassy official will evaluate your case, ask you questions about your character, job in the U.S, previous work experience and qualifications, as well as intentions to return home. If you hint at the fact that you want to stay in the U.S permanently, you will put your visa application at risk and it might be denied. So try to prove that you will return to Australia once your work is completed in the U.S.
What is the processing time of the E-3 visa?
After you send in your application to the U.S Embassy and complete your interview, the Embassy will review your case and send you their decision. If they approve your visa, you will need to send in your passport for stamping, and then you can go to the U.S and begin your employment.
The time it takes for the Embassy to respond to your case is around 2 months. However, this might take longer as the Embassy might have a bigger workload. If they do not respond within the general time frame, it does not mean that your visa has been rejected.
How long is the E-3 visa valid?
When the Department of Labor issues the LCA to your employer, there will be a specific validity to it. Your visa validity will match the LCA validity. If the LCA is valid for 6 months, your visa will be valid for 6 months too. Initially, the E-3 visa cannot be valid for more than 24 months or 2 years.
After the 2 years pass, you can apply for an E-3 visa renewal as long as you maintain your eligibility. Your employer must get an LCA with a new validity date and file Form I-129. Additionally, you must file Form I-539, Application to Extend or Change Status. You can renew or extend the E-3 visa indefinitely as long as you maintain your intent to return to Australia.
Additionally, you are eligible to change employers if you find a job that suits you better. Your new employer must file and have a new approved LCA. You must start your new job within 10 days of leaving your previous one. If you do not, then your visa status is at risk.
Also, you can change status if you fulfill the requirements for other visas. If you find an employer willing to sponsor and file an employment petition for you, as well as pay the additional fees, you can change to H-1 visa status. The H-1B status is limited to a maximum of 10 years, though, while the E-3 visa can be renewed indefinitely. Or you can change status to EB-2, EB-3, EB-4 Permanent employment based on your qualification.
Can I apply for a Green Card with an E-3 visa?
When you apply for the E-3 visa and whenever you renew it, you must prove an intent to return to Australia. That is why going from an E-3 visa to a Green Card is challenging. The E-3 visa is not dual intent, so it does not allow permanent residence. However, there are ways to obtain the Green Card.
The easiest is to change status to a dual intent visa. Dual intent visas are H category visas such as the H-1B visa. When you get this visa, you can then apply for the Green Card. Another way is if you have family in the U.S, you can apply to join them there.
Can I bring my dependents with an E-3 visa?
When you go to the U.S with an E-3 visa, you are allowed to bring your dependents with you. Dependents include your spouse and unmarried children under 21 years old. They can apply for their E-3D visa at the same time as you, or afterwards. To get the visa, they need to prove that there is a relationship. For children, you must submit their birth certificates, while for your spouse, a marriage certificate is required.
Dependents of E-3 visa holders are allowed to study in the U.S, and spouses are also allowed to work. Spouses can start employment by getting an Employment Authorization Document (EAD). They can get the document by filing Form I-765, Employment Authorization. After it is processed and approved, your spouse is allowed to work in any industry and full or part time.
When you as the primary E-3 visa holder get a renewal on your visa, your dependents must also follow the same procedures to apply for an extension to their visas. Additionally, if you obtain a Green Card, your dependents are eligible to get it too.