How to apply for an E-3 visa
Aussies, here’s your complete guide to how to apply for an E-3 visa.
If I had a dollar for every time a distant acquaintance asked me exhaustive questions about the costs and process involved with applying for an E-3 visa to live and work in the US, well, I’d probably have enough cash to pay for my next visa renewal.
Overwhelmingly the two-year E-3 visa is the most popular among Aussies wanting to relocate to America, and for good reason—the requirements are considerably less stringent than other visa options, you can basically renew indefinitely for two years at a time, and for some magical reason it’s easier for people hailing from the Land Down Under to apply for working permits than just about any other country. We’re very lucky, folks, but that doesn’t mean your application still won’t be confusing, time-consuming, and, at times, expensive.
So, in the interests of protecting my own sanity (please guys, stop DM-ing me!), and helping you navigate the E-3 visa process, I’m sharing what I, as an Australian living in New York, have learned, along with a little insight from immigration lawyer Alejandro Filippa at Lehach & Filippa in New York.
Of course, it goes without saying that these tips don’t apply to absolutely everyone, and it’s always a good idea to just front up some cash and see a lawyer yourself when navigating immigration and visas. Got it? Great, let’s get started.
You will need to take all of the below printed documents to your consulate appointment
Let’s start at the very end, because the final step of your application process boils down to one appointment with the US consulate in your local city during which you will be approved or denied in minutes. You will need to book this appointment at least a couple of weeks in advance, and make sure you leave at least a week for the visa (if approved) to be processed before you plan to depart for the States. Be sure to arrive early for your appointment as it can take about 20 minutes to get through security. You won’t be able to take your purse or mobile phone with you, but there are usually lockers available. These are the printed documents you should be preparing right now to take with you:
- One (1) Appointment Confirmation Page (you will receive this after booking your appointment)
- One (1) US passport photo taken within the last six months
- Passport with at least two adjacent blank pages, valid for at least six months beyond the date when you expect to depart from the United States
- One (1) confirmation sheet for completed Nonimmigrant Visa Application (Form DS-160)
- Certified Labor Condition Application from your employer
- Company support letter from your new employer
- Originals and copies of your university degree
- Recent bank statements from Australia
- Recent pay stubs from your job in Australia
- A cover letter from your lawyer, if you have one
- Form G-28, Notice of Entry of Appearance as Attorney, if you have one
Yes, the E-3 is probably the easiest, cheapest visa option
I’m sure you’ve read about plenty of different opinions while busily Google-searching “US working visa,” but the fact remains that the E-3 is almost always the best option. “As far as work visas go, it is the easiest for Australians,” Filippa agreed. That’s because you can apply directly with a US consulate abroad, which means you can apply for the visa in most cities across Australia without having to pay for travel overseas, a luxury not afforded to many other visa applicants: “Most other work visas will require the applicant to first apply to United States Citizenship and Immigration Services for approval before taking that consular step. This can easily shave off months of waiting,” Filippa explained.
You will need a university degree and a job offer in a related field
Your E-3 visa is contingent on two key elements: The consulate will want to know that you have both a university degree and a solid job offer in the US within a field related to your university qualifications. That means you will need a letter of support from your new employer detailing your new role, what that involves, and the salary.
“Generally speaking [you will need a] U.S. employer willing to act as the Petitioner, a university degree, a position that normally requires that (or a related) university degree as a minimum for the position, and a salary that corresponds to the minimum amount for that position as set by the US Dept. of Labor (the ‘prevailing wage’),” Filippa explained. You can investigate to make sure your salary meets the minimum requirement by contact the US Department of Labor.
No university degree? There’s still hope
If you don’t have a university degree, but you have plenty of experience in your field, there are still options available. Filippa strongly suggests using a lawyer in this situation, as you’ll need to be sure that you meet the requirements with at least 12 years of professional experience or a combination of professional experience and study. “For every three years of experience the rules count this as one year of university level education. So, if you do not have any university experience but 12 years of experience in a certain field, you could potentially still qualify,” he explained.
Prepare signed letters from your past employers to prove your work history. For around $200 an external evaluation company will write a recommendation to certify that your experience is equivalent to a US university degree. There are certain private organizations that the consulate trusts most, so don’t just go to any random professional evaluator—ask your legal rep first, or try Trustforte, which has been recommended to me by a lawyer. Don’t expect these companies to lie for you however–they’ve built a reputation on providing honest evaluations, so if your experience doesn’t make the cut, neither will you.
Provide some proof that you have ties to Australia
Several lawyers I spoke with told me that the US consulate likes to see that you have some ties to Australia, seeing as though this isn’t technically meant to be a permanent visa. That’s why it can be a good idea to take Australian bank statements and recent pay stubs from your job in the motherland to your consulate appointment. If you own property in Australia which you'll be keeping as an investment while you're in the US, take proof of that too.
The process is relatively quick—but you can make it even faster
My initial application for the E-3 visa took about a month, however Filippa says it can take “on average, about two to four weeks.”
To expedite the process, check online right at the beginning to see the wait time for a consulate appointment in your local city in advance to make sure you’re not sitting around waiting for a slot to open up in the distant future. You might even consider flying to another city, like Perth, which may have more appointments available.
The E-3 visa is relatively cheap, except if you need a lawyer
Normally applying for an E-3 will only cost a few hundred dollars, which is paid when you make your appointment with the consulate. However, involving an immigration lawyer will obviously make your application more expensive–Filippa says legal fees for E-3 applicants range from “as little as $500 all the way up to $3,000-plus.” In saying that, if you think your case is a little unusual, or you don’t have a friend or family member with experience applying for an E-3 available to help you, it will probably be worth the investment.
Make sure you promote the E-3 visa to your prospective employer
Some employers are daunted by the idea of taking on a foreign employee—the US is typically strict about handing out working visas, and it can become a huge hassle and financial investment for companies to hire internationally. So, while you know that the E-3 visa is simple and relatively cheap, you sometimes really need to drive that home during the interview process. Filippa suggests reminding the hiring manager that “it does not cost them anything and it is completely at will, meaning the employer can let the E-3 holder go from their position at any time, leaving the E-3 holder out of visa status.” They will also need to lodge and sign a Certified Labor Condition Application (LCA), which takes about seven days to process and is free.
Once you’re approved, your visa is valid for two years, or until you leave your job. If you change companies, you’ll have apply for a new visa. Good luck!