April 14, 2015 DMG

E3 Visa Process… the joy and the wait!

Hallelujah! Our E3 visas have landed. We’re off to NYC for a 2 year period and can’t wait!

For those not in the know, the E3 visa is for Australian citizens who:

  • Hold a degree in their specialised field, or equivalent work experience (approx. 3 years experience for every 1 year of degree study);
  • Have a US employer providing an offer of employment, willing to sponsor them, and apply for labor condition;
  • Will work in a ‘specialty occupation’; &
  • Will earn equal to or above the standard wage of that ‘specialty occupation’.

Note – There is more to it than the above. This is just a guide. Married partners and dependent children get the dependent E3 visa (defacto relationships are not recognised).  

Given the amount of research we (Jude and I) did in order to apply for the E3 visa I thought I might share some lessons learned from the process which may help future applicants.

Apart from reading other’s varying experiences online, the site I turned to most often was http://www.ustraveldocs.com/au/, and the E3 visa details can be found on this page. Further down on this page you’ll find the high-level steps you need to go through in order to apply. Don’t skim over this information, read it like you’re line editing it as you need to be prepared well for each step.

Our Process

The process we followed was not what I’d refer to as the standard one. What follows is high-level and missing some very important finer details. So be sure to use the above mentioned site for guidance. Also, keep EVERYTHING (appointment confirmations, application confirmations, receipts for visa payments, etc.). Sure you may not need it all, but keep it just in case. I created a Google drive for all of ours as well as a physical folder for all printed items.

Once I received the letter of offer from my future employer I commenced the online applications (DS-160 Information) for myself and my daughter, with Jude commencing hers. These online forms are pretty straight forward and simple to complete if you have all the required information. They also allow a period of time where you can save your application and come back to it later to complete, which is very handy if you discover that you don’t have everything you need or you get interrupted.

One of the required pieces of information is your visa photo. There are strict guidelines that the photo needs to meet, but this is fairly easily handled by most camera shops that offer passport photo’s. You’ll find that most have a template for US visa photo’s, and once you have them you can use the online photo checking tool (same link as previous) to make sure they pass before you try and upload them to your application form. Getting the dimensions is pretty easy, but be careful of the shadows!

After we had completed all 3 applications I went back to USTravelDocs to create an account so that I could book the in person interview. Yes, in person. Be aware of this because if you’re not in Sydney, Melbourne, Canberra or Perth then you’ll need to get to one of them. I was lucky enough to have assistance from my future employer for the associated cost, but if not it would have hit the hip pocket pretty hard.

The interview booking process online is also quite easy to navigate. I was initially concerned that I would have to create 3 separate accounts for us and try to time all the interviews somehow, but it handles group bookings well as long as you have selected the correct visa types in the applications (primary vs. dependent). I went for a 9am booking. My thinking here was that it was early and that would hopefully mean less delays. Was I right? Not really. We went to Melbourne because we hadn’t been in a while and it was the cheapest destination for us to get to (coming from Adelaide). I had read another person’s experience of going to Perth which sounded very pleasant… let’s just say that Melbourne is not similar to my read experience of Perth!

We arrived at the consulate approx. 30 minutes early and there was already a queue to gain entry. This was entry to the consulate itself, not entry to the interview. The decision to bring Jasmine along to the interview was suddenly looking like a bad one! Note – Dependents under a certain age are not required to attend, but we opted to take her just in case. After some time waiting outside the consulate we entered the lower level which was the first security checkpoint. Please take note that NOTHING apart from what you require in the interview is allowed passed this point. No phones, handbags, etc. NOTHING. Once again, the decision to bring Jasmine came to mind (eek!). After this checkpoint we moved to the lifts which took us up to the second security checkpoint. This one moved much faster and was the point where were given our ticket number. I was still feeling pretty confident of a smooth and quick process at this point. Then we entered the main waiting room…

This room was the point where I realised we were going to be there for a long time. Only one or two empty seats in the room, and there were a lot of seats! We waited a while before being called to the first window. By this time I had already seen that people sat back down again after this initial window so had already assumed this was not the actual interview. This was simply the document check; the point where they made sure you had everything required and took photocopies of the items they needed. At this point I advised the consulate staff member that I didn’t have the signed Labor Condition Application (LCA) form from the US Department of Labor (DOR). This is one of the required documents but I had not received it from my future employer in time. I had already emailed the consulate prior to the interview to make sure we could still attend and simply provide it later (which was obviously all good). After that check was done, we sat and waited some more.

I can’t tell you the exact wait time for us, but it was long. There was a TV in the corner of the room which played a US tourism type video on a loop, and some old magazines that you could read. Lucky for me I had a coin… so played heads or tails with Jasmine for what seemed like an eternity! At last we got the call up to the next interview window. This was the actual interview. I was asked some very generic questions about the role and my experience, Jude was asked a couple of personal questions in relation to our relationship, and Jasmine was even asked for her middle name! All went well, but of course we didn’t get a final decision at that point due to the lack of the LCA. I was handed a form which provided the guidelines for sending the LCA once I received it, via email. That was it, interview over.

That would normally have been the standard process. We would have received a final decision there and then, but our E3 saga had to continue.

After some time had passed and certain things had changed (location in the US, updated offer, etc.) I finally received the LCA from my future employer. This was accompanied by a ‘package’ or sorts from their lawyer which collated the LCA and also a supporting letter, etc. I emailed this off to the consulate as directed in the hope that the turnaround time would be speedy. I had assumed that due to the on the spot decision that most people get (when they have all the documents they need) that this would also be rather quick. As it turns out, when supplying documents after the interview it can be up to four weeks (or longer – there really is no prescribed time) before hearing anything! So my one piece of very serious advise would be to try and have the LCA in your hands prior to the interview. What made this wait even more nerve-wracking was that the consulate held on to our Australian passports from the time of the interview. This is normal process, except that when a decision is made on the spot you get your passports sent back with your visas (normally around 5 business days). Ours were held there for approx. 5 months! Lots of things can go missing in 5 months, but fortunately for us our passports weren’t among those things. I’m not sure what we would have had to do if we needed to travel overseas during that period? I guess tell the consulate to send them back, but who knows what impact that may have had on the visa processing.

In the end it was approximately three weeks between sending the LCA and finally getting our visas delivered. Not too bad at all really.

When considering the bigger picture (our ultimate goal of living and working in NYC), what we went through was pretty simple and a small price to pay. It all went as smoothly as it could considering our circumstances. One thing I will say is that correspondence with the consulate was good. I had two phone calls with them, multiple emails, and a couple of live chats. All of these were good interactions.

So we’re off to live and work in the concrete jungle that is NYC! Stay tuned for updates as I’m sure there will be MANY experiences worth sharing.