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.
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