The E-3 visa is for Australian professionals who wish to perform services in a specialty occupation. It is not a general work permit that allows Australians to engage in unrestricted employment. The E-3 visa requires sponsorship from a U.S. employer (or “petitioner”). It is very similar to the H-1B visa in terms of eligibility requirements. It is also subject to a numerical limit of 10,500 E-3 visas per fiscal year.
A “specialty occupation” is one that requires:
- A theoretical and practical application of a body of specialized knowledge; and,
- The attainment of a bachelor’s or higher degree in the specific specialty (or its equivalent) as a minimum for entry into the occupation in the United States.
In order to qualify for an E-3 visa, it is not enough that an E-3 applicant holds a bachelor’s or higher degree that is related to the job. The job itself must also require a bachelor-level or higher qualification.
Combining Education and Experience
An E-3 applicant may also qualify based on professional experience or a combination of education and experience. U.S. regulations allow a certain kind and amount of experience that can be used to establish the equivalent of a bachelor’s degree. The formula recognizes three years of progressive experience as equal to one year of university-level education. Therefore, someone would need 12 years of progressively responsible experience to show the “equivalent” of a U.S. bachelor’s degree.
Alternatively, one can combine partial or incomplete post-secondary education and experience using the same formula. So, someone with two years of post-secondary education only needs 6 years of work experience.
An E-3 applicant must meet the academic and occupational requirements for the job, including licensure where appropriate, for admission into the United States in a specialty occupation. If the job requires licensure or other official permission to perform the specialty occupation, the applicant must submit proof of the requisite license or permission before the E-3 visa may be granted. In certain cases, where such a license or other official permission is not immediately required to perform the duties described in the visa application, the applicant must show that s/he will obtain such licensure within a reasonable period of time following admission to the United States.
An E-3 visa is issued in 2-year increments, and may be renewed indefinitely.
Intent to Depart Upon Termination of Status
The E-3 visa does not require applicants to establish intent to proceed to the United States for a specific temporary period of time. It also does not require applicants to maintain foreign residence in their home country. In fact, they may sell their residence and move all household effects to the United States. They may also be a beneficiary of an immigrant visa petition. Their expression of unequivocal intent to return to their home country, upon the expiration of their E-3 status, is normally sufficient.
Obtaining an E-3 Visa
An employer of an E-3 visa applicant is not required to file a petition with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). The E-3 visa application may be submitted directly to a U.S. embassy or consulate in Australia or abroad. The ability for employers to bypass the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) mail-in application process is one of the advantages of an E-3 visa.
The E-3 visa applicant must make an appointment at a U.S. embassy or consulate to have the E-3 visa stamped into his/her passport. Appointment wait times vary with each embassy or consulate from a few days to a few weeks. The passport is typically returned within 5-10 days.
Applicants who have an arrest or criminal record must bring any documents relating to the incident that outline the offense, penalty, probation and/or other dispositions (e.g. arrest report, incident report, final court disposition, etc.). Some U.S. embassies or consulates will require applicants to obtain police certificate. Therefore, applicants should always check the U.S. embassy website for post-specific requirements. Arrests, criminal records and prior immigration violations can significantly impact visa issuance times, and in some cases, can render applicants inadmissible to the United States.
In some situations, where the E-3 applicant is already in the United States on some other type of visa classification, the U.S. employer may file an E-3 change of status petition with USCIS. However, unlike most of nonimmigrant visa classifications, E-3 visa petitions are not eligible for USCIS’ optional premium processing service (which guarantees a decision within 15 calendar days for an additional fee of $1,225). Furthermore, once the foreign national travels abroad, s/he will need to re-submit an E-3 visa application to a U.S. embassy or consulate prior to returning to the United States. This is true even if the applicant has a valid I-797 approval from USCIS.
Like any other employment-sponsored nonimmigrant visa, the E-3 visa is employer-specific, which means that the E-3 employee can only work for the company that sponsors hm/her. Foreign nationals admitted on an E-3 visa may work for multiple employers provided that each employer applies for a concurrent E-3 visa. E-3 professionals may also change jobs or “transfer” their E-3 visa to a new employer at any time. However, they cannot start working for the new employer until the new E-3 application or petition has been approved.
Accompanying Family Members
Immediate family members of E-3 professionals, such as spouses and minor children under 21 years of age are eligible for E-3 visas. They may attend school in the United States. E-3 spouses are also eligible to apply for an unrestricted employment authorization.