E-3 Visa: Migrating to the US as an Australian

The easiest way to temporarily migrate to the US as an Australian (outside of a tourist visa) is on an E-3 visa. The E-3 is very similar to the H1-B, but with a few notable differences.

This is a special visa category recently set up for Australian professionals looking to work temporarily in the US. It is a great visa category for Australians looking to bypass the long queue and the lottery surrounding the more popular and ever constricted H1-B visas. 10,500 E-3 visas are alloted per fiscal year and they have yet to exhaust this number at any year, so there are plenty to go around.

Some things to note about the E-3 visa:

  1. Like the H1-B, one must have a job offer from a US employer in a specialized occupation (the specialty occupation designation is the same as the H1-B) and possess a bachelor’s degree or equivalent.
  2. You have to be an Australian National (not just in Australia).
  3. If you’re already in the United States on another valid visa, it is possible to change your status to an E-3 visa.
  4. Unlike the H1-B (six years maximum normally), there is no prohibition on the length of the E-3 visa — it can be renewed indefinitely, as long as the requirements of the E-3 visa are met.
  5. Another advantage of the E-3, is that E-3 visa holder’s spouses can obtain work authorization, unlike H-4s who are not allowed to work.
  6. The major disadvantage that comes up is the dual intent issue. With H1-Bs, it is commonly understood that the visa is can be used to gain permanent residency later on and it’s not just a non-immigrant visa. The E-3 is a non-immigrant visa, meaning one shouldn’t have the intention of settling permanently in the US. However, there is no foreign residency requirement either — meaning that one doesn’t have to prove strong ties to the homeland in order to be approved. A simple statement attesting an intent to return to Australia should suffice. E-3 visa holders, like other E visa holders should be able to stay a long time and if circumstances change, move onto immigrant visa.

H1-B1s: Chile and Singapore (and Australia too)

There’s been much talk about how the H1-B temporary work visas have been exhausted and are in great demand, etcetera. And that is true. There are only 65,000 allotted in a fiscal year — and those are usually spoken for in the first day or two when they are available (they are usually given out on a lottery basis because there are more applications than visas, sometimes 2 to 1).

However, for a certain nationals, there is good news. Especially for those who hail from Chile and Singapore. (More on Australia later). Of course, those who are being sponsored by institutions of higher learning, non-profits, and governmental research agencies or have an advanced degree never had to worry about not having a H1-B visa available for them in the first place.

Due to free trade agreements with each country, Chile and Singapore have their own allotment of H1Bs.

These are labeled H1-B1, which is different than a H1-B (no number after the B) and is for those engaged in specialized occupations.

For Chile, there are 1,400 H1-B1 visas set aside.

For Singapore, there are 5,400 H1-B1 visas set aside.

The amazing thing is the fact that these visas are not used up.

The requirements are mostly the same for the “regular” H1-Bs and the H1-B1s. However, there are some issues with the H1-B1s for Chile/Singapore:

1. One may apply directly to the consulate for the visa rather than await for USCIS approval.

2. The H1-B1s are usually issued for just a year versus three for the mainstream H1-B.

3. The Chile/Singapore H1-B1 do NOT allow for dual intent (this means that you are not permitted to seek permanent residency or a greencard later on, unlike the H1-B). However, one may always change from an H1-B1 to an H1-B later on.

4. H1-B1s allow Chilean physical therapists under its umbrella as well as both Singaporean and Chilean management consultants.

The H1-B1 is a useful way to think around the quota imposed limitations of the H1-B. Chile and Singapore may be two good spots to recruit to that.

And as for Australia, there is an E-3 category, which will be discussed another post, but it essentially works like an H1-B1 for specialized occupations.

Planning for an H1-B Work Visa as an F-1 Student

John Belushi was not an F-1 visa holder
John Belushi was not an F-1 visa holder

One of the most popular ways of gaining status here in the United States (outside of going through family/marriage) is through work. And the most common way through that is to find a job while here in the US as a student (on an F-1 visa). This requires just a little bit of planning and not waiting until the last minute to find help (which happens often, because I suppose, college students still procrastinate — I know I did).

1)  The first thing to do is to find an internship/work with a prospective employer. Usually, most students (again, I’m referring to F-1 students, not J-1 students) will find work or an internship with a prospective employer through the OPT program and prove to the employer that they are indeed hire-able, desirable, and non-fungible.

F-1 students are allowed to engage in the Optional Practical Training (OPT) for a year. This is essentially a paid internship position. One obtains employment authorization by filing an I-765 (and lots of supporting documentation) from the school’s foreign affairs office.

2)  Once on OPT, find an employer willing to sponsor you as an employee after your OPT period runs out.  You don’t necessarily have to be sponsored by the same company that you’re doing your OPT with.  Get an offer of employment in your specialty occupation and then have your employer sponsor you for your H1-B because you’re awesome.  Your employer will get the process started by filing the appropriate paperwork with the USCIS and the Department of Labor.

Problems arise when the employer wants to hire the worthy F-1 student.  Often times employers will use the H1-B. However, due to the demands made by the H1-B visa, it is very difficult to get. H1-B applications are due usually around April 1 for the fiscal year (which starts October 1).  Applications are cut off after the first two days. Yes, it’s that in demand. And assuming that one’s application submits the application in time, and is then picked in the lottery process, and then approved — the H1-B Visa doesn’t become valid until October 1st.

SO: If you’re perspicacious enough to line up a job and be shining star to get an employer to file an H1-B application by April. It could be that you graduated the May of the previous year, which means that you’re on your 11th month of the 12 month OPT period. Which leaves about a six month period in which you can not work under your old OPT or your not yet valid H1-B. This situation is called the cap-gap.

However, this year, certain F-1 students are eligible to extend their OPT period for an additional 17 months (29 months total), with two requirements:

1. The F-1 is student must be studying in the field of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics).
2. The sponsoring employer must be enrolled in E-Verify.

Essentially, to those F-1 students, you should really start looking for a job as soon as possible and start thinking about any possible immigration options the semester before you graduate. That way you can plan for certain contingencies well in advance.

Because the UCIS isn’t the avuncular professor that grants extensions all the time . . .