H-1B & E-3 Visa Holders Applying at US Consulates in Canada

In the last 12 months we have been inundated with questions from rightly apprehensive foreigners who seemingly have secured their dream to live and work in the US only to be faced with a new sense of fear, actually getting the US work visa itself.

If you are in the US as either legally as a tourist or another visa like the F-1 student visa, that would be the logical time to apply to US employers, attend interviews and hopefully secure a position. However because of the absurdity of the US Immigration system, this means you either initially have to leave the US to get a visa stamp in your passport at a US Consulate before you can start working for your new US employer. Alternatively in certain cases if you are transferring from an unexpired non-immigrant visa or status at the time of application (so not tourist visa waiver ESTA) you can potentially start employment, however as soon as you travel outside the US for work or pleasure you have to attend a US Consulate as well for an interview to get a visa stamp.

The reason why the situations above are absurd is because in any prior non-immigrant visa case the person would have already attended a US Consulate to get their initial US visa. So they largely go through the same process again just this time with the assessment of the US employer and job. Given that the US employer and job have already been assessed as part of the process by the Department of Labor in all cases and by the USCIS (United States Custom & Immigration Service) as well in all work visa transfer cases and any H-1B visa case, it is just redundant waste and further cost to foreigners, US employers and ultimately the US economy as a whole.

This whole process can take weeks and sometimes many months and cost thousands of dollars in application fees, legal fees, travel costs and that doesn’t factor in lost earning to the employee or the business. Given the H-1B visa period always commences on or after October 1 in any given year this tends to produce high demand for interview slots between May and October each year when the application begin to be approved after the annual April 1 filing opening.

In the case of E-3 visas where the application season is year round and the demand is nowhere near as high the same issues that arise for the H-1B work visa applicants and their employers also apply. However additional “guidelines” around which US Consulates are applicable depending on whether its a new visa (E-3 visa) or renewal version of the visa (E-3R) add further confusion.

firsttimee3visa

The above guideline posted on the US Embassy official website for Australia causes more angst than any other for people who have actually secured an E-3 visa. Given the cost for a round trip to Australia at the best of times might be around $2,000 when booked in advance, it is not a cheap option to go back just to get a visa. Often as well getting an appointment may take many weeks at one of the 3 Australian located US Consulates in Perth, Sydney or Melbourne.

Often people would love to go to Canada and namely a place like Toronto. Below is a further cause of angst on the official US Consulate website for Toronto regarding the E-3 visa.

Q. I am an Australian citizen applying for an E3 visa. What do I need to do?

A. Applicants for E-3 visas are seen in Toronto in the same manner as all other non E-visa applicants, by appointment made online at http://canada.usvisa-info.com/ or by calling 647-955-3736(calling from Toronto area), 1-877-341-2441 (calling from elsewhere in Canada or from the U.S). Information about E-3 visas is available at U.S. Embassy in Canberra. Appointments are booked many weeks in advance. There is no special consideration given to E-3 visa applicants.

We urge all visa applicants who are not landed immigrants or long-term residents of Canada to apply at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate in their home country. Applicants who come to Toronto from the U.S., having entered the U.S. as a visitor, are likely to be found ineligible here and unable to return to the U.S. even as a visitor.

The above statement contradicts itself by saying it will process E-3 visas as normal in the first paragraph and then warning against doing it in the second paragraph unless long term residents of Canada (or potentially non-immigrant visa holders in the US as opposed to just tourists). It should be noted none of the above two US Consulate guidelines are given for H-1B visa applicants.

The bottom line is we have got a lot of feedback on this from people over the years who have actually gone through the first time visa process and the visa renewals, talked to the largely unhelpful customer service at the USCIS, Department of State and US Consulates themselves as well a lot of first hand knowledge. These are the best guidelines we can give (I stress these are definitely guidelines because there are no facts around this and people have had conflicting experiences and it seems like facts change a lot)

  • First time and renewal H-1B visa holders can apply at any US Consulate around the world. If you are a first time H-1B visa applicant with a foreign degree to the US or the country you are applying within, then would highly recommend getting your degrees assessed as equivalent to a US degree by an organization (many Universities or affiliated organizations do this service for a fee and many US employers who employ legal counsel do this as part of the process)
  • First time E-3 visa holders who have never held a US non-immigrant visa like F-1, J-1, H-1B, etc. are only in the US on the ESTA visa waiver, I would highly recommend doing your application in Australia or at the very least not in Canada.
  • First time E-3 visa holders if you came on the non-immigrant B-1/B-2 visa but as a tourist, I would highly recommend the above as well
  • If you are a first time E-3 visa holder and have been on a non-immigrant visa, I would ideally avoid Canada and use Mexico, the Bahamas, Dominican Republic or UK if you want somewhere closer. However if you are going to do Canada maybe avoid Toronto (& Montreal) and do it in Vancouver or Halifax
  • Renewal E-3 visa cases seem to be fine at any US Consulate including Canadian ones
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17 thoughts on “H-1B & E-3 Visa Holders Applying at US Consulates in Canada

  1. Please address my query.

    When one applies for E3 with company A – one is advised to do it in Australia. Now when the individual changes job and joins another company B, should he again apply from Australia or can he do it at Toronto ?

  2. Anon the general advice is to do first time E-3 visas in Australia or your home country where you have residency and renewals can be done at any US Consulate but many people do their first time E-3 visas elsewhere.
    Cj

  3. I just tried to book an E3 renewal in Budapest but the E3 option doesn’t appear. Should I just pick H1B?? Thank you

  4. David there is a decent chance the E-3 visa has rarely been processed in Budapest. Honestly I would call ahead because you don’t want a situation where they refuse to even assess our application. There is no reason they should do this but never hurts to check given the nature of US Immigration.
    Cj

  5. It looks like Barbados does new E3 applications.
    http://barbados.usembassy.gov/e-3-visas.html

    And the 1st comment suggest that the Bahamas does not process initial applications, only renewals.

    So what are the suggestions of going to Mexico, DR and UK based on? I had my initial E3 visa processed in Ottawa and in 2011 and it went very smoothly. My lawyer had nothing bad to say about Canada either. Unfortunately the Canadian US consulates and Embassy are no longer taking new appointments for non-Canadians until October. So all of a sudden this issue has become very relevant.

  6. Hi,
    Firstly thank you so much for all your help on this topic.

    I have a question regarding changing from a b2 to e3d. My fiance has an e3 and because we are not married I could only receive a b2 to live in the usa. We are to be married back in Australia in November but fly out back to the usa a day after we are married so it is not possible to apply there, our honeymoon is booked for mexico the day after we are back also. I will also be changing my passport to my fiances name with Australian consulate in Chicago aswell it would be due to expire in July next year. Can I transfer from b2 to e3d once I am back in the usa? How long would ut take before i could work? Or is Toronto also an option? How long does approval general take before I’d get my passpassport back? How should I handle the passport renewal, should it be before the transfer?
    Regards Melanie

  7. I noticed that the Toronto consulate removed the statements from their website saying “Applicants who come to Toronto from the U.S., having entered the U.S. as a visitor, are likely to be found ineligible here and unable to return to the U.S. even as a visitor”.

    On that page and elsewhere on their website (http://canada.usembassy.gov/visas/visas/e-visa-applications.html), it says that “E-3 visa applicants may apply via the normal process at the US Embassy or any Consulate across Canada”.

    That is a significant change, right?

  8. I’ve got an offer and will use my OPT to work in states. intend to transfer to E3 next year, does this mean I do not need to be interviewed?
    My problem is I do not have strong ties to Australia(no family/property), if I do not need to be interviewed, do I get around my problem?

  9. Hi,

    I am a first time E-3 visa applicant who just had my visa approved in Vancouver, Canada. Overall this was a very easy experience. The employees in the consulate seemed very aware of the E-3 visa.
    The only documents they asked of me were the following:
    – Passport
    – Certified LCA
    – DS-160
    – Photos

    They did not ask to see my job offer, bachelor degree (3 years) or evidence of work experience. I guess they assume that my employer did this when they hired me. I also had a lot of other supporting information that I did not get asked for.

    I did have one issue that others might also have. I had previously applied for the Diversity Visa (Green Card Lottery). I drew a blank when I was asked about this as it didn’t come to me straight away. I was then asked if I was planning on emigrating to the US. Even though I do not plan on doing this I probably didn’t say ‘no’ with enough conviction. I then had to wait a further 30 minutes while they ‘checked something’. I was then called back up to the counter and told that I was approved.

    All in all it was a pretty simple process with the exception of the one thing. Had they asked, I had plenty of documents to prove my ties to Australia. But it is definitely possible to get your first E-3 via in Canada!

  10. Sam, your comment is so helpful!
    I’m just about to go through the process of applying for my first E3 Visa in Vancouver and had conflicting opinions from others, including my migration lawyer, of doing it back in Australia and not in Canada.
    I was going to forge ahead and try my luck in Vancouver anyway, and I’m glad you posted your experience here, as it has given me the assurance I needed. Fingers crossed!

  11. Hi Sam and Julie – your messages are both really great to hear as I am thinking about applying for my E3 visa in Vancouver (I am currently on one however I am changing employer so opting to get a new one rather than wait the 2-3 months for the transfer.

    Julie – did you end up getting approved? If so, what was the process like?

  12. Hi Sam,

    Great post. I’m thinking of heading over March 2016 and hoping to apply in Vancouver also.
    How long did it take for you to book an appointment? I’ve heard there can be long wait times outside of Australia.

    Any advice would be great.

    Thanks – Dave

  13. I want to hear the response to Louise’ query – Im in a very similar situation.

    On another topic, E3 in Canada – I think something seems changed on their website: http://canada.usembassy.gov/visas/visas/categories-and-requirements/australian-specialty-occupation.html

    This is the updated statement “Consular officers in Canada may refuse to issue a visa to first-time E3 applicants if the applicant’s education and/or work experience is solely or predominantly from a country other than the United States or Canada. In the absence of U.S. or Canadian education or work experience, we strongly encourage you to apply from your country of residence.”

    My latest education (Masters) is from USA but my Bachelors are from down under, so I think I need to apply from Australia… Ideas are welcome.

    The added complication is that my student visa for USA is on my Kiwi passport, so im wondering if I should go into the extra effort of transferring it to my Aussie passport (i.e. a new application all together) or leave the student visa on Kiwi passport and apply for E-3 with no attachment to my student visa?

  14. Man, this is so stressful! What happens if you try getting your E3 in Toronto? And if you get refused does it mean you’re no longer eligible for the visa waiver programme? Please help!!

  15. Hello I was hoping to hear how Melanie went.
    I am in a similar situation in which my partner is on the E3 visa and I need to apply for the E3D.
    Does anyone have any experience on apply for the E3D for the first time not in Australia?
    Thanks!!!

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