What is the E-3 Specialty Occupation Visa Category?

Employment-Based Immigration

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E-3 visas are employment visas that are granted only to Australian nationals based on the Australia-United States Free Trade Agreement (AUSFTA). Although the E-3 is in many ways similar to the H-1B, including its nonimmigrant status, important differences exist as well. This visa category was created by The Emergency Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2005 for Defense, the Global War on Terror, and Tsunami Relief.

How to Qualify for an E-3 Visa

Following are the basic qualifications for the E-3 visa:

  • You must be a citizen of Australia. Permanent residents of Australia are ineligible to apply, although non-Australian family members of a qualifying E-3 applicant may accompany E-3 visa holders to the United States.
  • The E-3 visa is a work visa, and you must be coming to the United States to practice a “specialty occupation.”
  • Your spouse and unmarried children under 21 may accompany you to the United States even if they are not Australian citizens. Although the US recognizes same-sex marriages for E-3 visa purposes, it does not recognize “common law” marriages of any kind — you will need a marriage certificate.

Specialty Occupations

For both E-3 and H-1B employment purposes, the USCIS will accept that your employment qualifies as a specialty occupation if it requires the attainment of a bachelor’s degree to perform properly — a teacher, a doctor, a lawyer, an engineer, etc. Blue-collar jobs — such as plumbing, for example — do not qualify even if they require a high degree of skill, because they don’t require a bachelor’s degree.

Instead, the position must require “theoretical and practical application of a body of specialized knowledge” that normally would only be attained through the attainment of a bachelor’s degree. See Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) 214 (i)(1) for details.

Naturally, you must be qualified to perform the specialty occupation that forms the basis of your E-3 application. Even if you have a bachelor’s degree, you are still not qualified if your degree is not in the same subject as the degree required for the specialty occupation you seek to undertake. A bachelor’s degree (or even a Ph.D.) in philosophy, for example, will not qualify you as a nurse.

There is no official list of specialty occupations — in some cases, it is a judgment call by the USCIS that you have the power to influence through the persuasiveness of the information you provide in your application.

Notes on E-3 Visas

In most respects, the E-3 visa is preferable to the H-1B. Following are some ways in which the E-3 visa differs:

  • Premium Processing (to expedite the visa approval process) is not available for E-3 visas.
  • E-3 visas are valid for an initial two-year period of stay but are indefinitely extendable for an additional two-year period of stay.
  • The E-3 visa is not a dual intent visa. To obtain one, you must convince US immigration authorities that you have sufficient ties to Australia that it is unlikely that you will seek immigration to the United States. Permanent residence is not available unless you apply from abroad or change your status to a dual intent visa such as the L-1 visa.
  • E-3 visas are considerably cheaper, largely because H-1B visa fees have skyrocketed in recent years. This makes it easier for you to find a job since it makes the process cheaper for your future employer.
  • Your accompanying spouse can work for a US employer with a valid employment authorization document (EAD). Your children will not be granted employment authorization and may not work while you are in E-3 status.

Step-by-Step Guide to Applying for an E-3 Visa

The following steps are required to obtain E-3 status:

  • Obtain a job offer for a specialty occupation with an employer in the United States. You must meet the minimum qualifications for the specific specialty occupation that you will be performing.
  • Have your prospective employer send you an offer letter. The offer letter should contain certain required information that will make it obvious that you qualify for E-3 status, identify the employer and its products; clarify your position within the company; and review the fit between your qualifications and the degree requirements of the job you are being offered.
  • Labor certification is required. Your prospective employer must file a Labor Condition Application (LCA)with the US Department of Labor using Form ETA-9035. Approval of an LCA usually takes five to ten days.
  • Once the LCA is approved it will be marked “Certified”. Your employer should then print out the LCA, sign it and send it to you.

If you apply from inside the US

  • Have your employer complete Form I-129 if you are located in the United States and you wish to change your status to E-3. Your employer must submit it to the USCIS along with any required documents (offer letter, certified LCA, university transcripts, etc.).
  • Wait for the USCIS to issue you an approval notice. You will NOT receive an E-3 visa from the USCIS, only E-3 status. If you leave the US while in E-3 status, you will need to obtain an E-3 visa at a US embassy or consulate abroad to enter the US from abroad.

If you apply from outside the US

  • Complete Form DS-160 and gather any required supporting documentation.
  • Book an appointment at a US consulate or embassy. If this is your first E-3 visa application, schedule your interview at a US consulate or embassy in Australia.
  • Attend your consulate appointment and bring all necessary supporting documentation. When in doubt, bring it. Don’t forget your passport; otherwise, the US consulate or embassy will have nothing to stamp your new E-3 visa onto.
  • Your visa might not be issued immediately. You can keep track of the status of your visa application here.
  • Pick up your passport whenever it is ready, and enter the United States.

In a best-case scenario, you might be able to enter the US a month after you receive your offer letter. Don’t count on this, however.

Herman Legal Group: A Powerful Advocate

Herman Legal Group was officially founded in 1995, and we have never looked back. Our reputation for compassionate advocacy combined with aggressive, individualized representation has expanded the firm from its initial office in Cleveland, Ohio to offices in Columbus, Detroit, Toledo, Youngstown, Dayton, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Buffalo, Dallas, and Miami, and even the Philippines. Meanwhile our staff work with clients in a dozen languages.

The world has noticed — Richard himself has been named a “Super Lawyer” for 10 years running (an honor bestowed on only about 2.5 percent of the nation’s lawyers in any given year), while Herman Legal Group has been named “Best Law Firm” in immigration law by US News and World Report (2016). And the honors keep pouring in.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

How much is the fee for the E-3 visa?

At the time of this writing, the fee for an E-3 visa is $205 per applicant, including accompanying dependents. There is no fee to file the Labor Condition Application.

May I apply for the E-3 visa based on my work experience rather than my education?

Yes, at least theoretically. A good rule of thumb is that you can substitute three years of related work experience for every one year of college that you lack.

Do I have to seek work in the United States before I may apply for an E-3 visa?

You will need a firm job offer in the US, at no less than the prevailing wage, before you may commence the E-3 application process. Of course, entry to the US might not be required for you to obtain a job offer.

May I go to the United States to look for a new job and then apply for the E-3 visa after I find one?

Yes, with two caveats: (i) you cannot enter the US for job-hunting on an E-3 visa; you must find another basis to enter the United States (visa waiver, for example); and (ii) once you find a job at the prevailing wage or higher, you will need to leave the US to apply for a change of status at a US consulate or embassy abroad (which must be in Australia if this is your first E-3 application).

Who may apply for an E-3D (spouse and children) visa?

Your accompanying dependents must file separate applications and must pay separate fees. It is the same three-step process: i) paperwork (ii) fee payment and (iii) interview. Although approval of E-3D applications is routine; your application might be rejected if:

  • You are relying on a common-law marriage. One possible scenario is where a gay partner is denied E-3D status because gay marriage is not legal in the jurisdiction where the couple lives.
  • Your accompanying child is under 21 but already married.

How long before my start date can I enter the United States?

You may enter the US up to 10 days before your start date.

How long can I remain in the US after I finish my job?

You can remain in the US for up to 10 days after you finish your job. Any further delay could risk illegal presence in the United States unless you apply for a change of status. Speak with a qualified immigration lawyer if you are considering this option.

Can I apply for a green card while in E-3 status?

No, this will get you into trouble, since E-3 visas are not dual intent visas. In a worst-case scenario, it could even result in the cancellation of your E-3 status.

Is there a quota or cap for the E-3 visa?

Yes. E-3 visas are limited to 10,500 per fiscal year.

Bold Beginnings

The roots of what would later become Herman Legal Group can be traced all the way back to a one-way trip to Moscow undertaken by firm founder Richard Herman in 1993, just after he graduated from law school. Once in Moscow, Mr. Herman established a new immigration law practice geared towards post-Societ entrepreneurs seeking visas to the United States.

Contact Us Immediately

You may need help securing an E-3 visa, or you may have run into another immigration problem. Regardless of the nature of your problem or challenge, the odds are good that we have successfully dealt with it many times before. Telephone us at (+1) (800) 808-4013 or (+1)(614) 300-1131 or by completing our online contact sheet) to schedule a free initial consultation. We look forward to hearing from you!

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