The E-3 visa is a 2-year nonimmigrant US work visa that is exclusively for citizens of Australia. The visa allows Australian nationals to work for a sponsoring US company in a “specialty occupation” role. Although the visa is capped at 10,500 a year, it has never filled up.
Unlike some other types of work visas, such as the H-1B, O-1 or L-1, an individual seeking an E-3 visa can apply directly for the visa at a US Consulate or Embassy by presenting their application to the Consulate or Embassy without having an underlying petition approved by USCIS. This is helpful as it can streamline and quicken the time it takes to actually receive the visa and trigger the status. It is still possible in some circumstances to obtain the E-3 status in the US through the submission of a petition to the USCIS.
Apply at a US Consulate in Australia
Applying for an E-3 visa at a US Consulate or Embassy in Australia is usually the safest place to apply for an E-3 visa, especially if it is your first E-3. In our experience, the Consulates in Australia are very reasonable and consistent in their review of E-3 applications. The US Consulates in Australia are located in Melbourne, Perth and Sydney, while the Embassy, which does not provide consular services, is located in Canberra.
Most E-3 visa applications will require an in-person interview. However, the Consulates in Australia do provide an exception to an in-person interview and allow mail applications in some scenarios where you have been previously approved for the E-3.
Apply at a US Consulate or Embassy outside of Australia
For the sake of convenience, many Australian nationals choose to apply for E-3 visas at US Consulates or Embassies in countries other than Australia. For example, some of our clients have gone to Canada, Barbados, London, and other Consulates or Embassies in countries throughout the world other than Australia. Generally speaking, it is always our recommendation to go Australia, especially if it is a first-time application, but if it’s a renewal or transfer, and there’s a record of a previous approval without issue and there are no potential red flag items related to the application, then it may be fine to go to a location outside of Australia. We have even processed first-time E-3s at locations outside of Australia without incident.
Apply through USCIS
Applying for the E-3 status through a petition filed with the USCIS is possible if you are in the US in a status that will allow a change of status (the ESTA visa waiver program does not allow a change of status). In this scenario, one could trigger the E-3 status through an approved E-3 petition. However, in the vast majority of cases it does not make sense to apply for an E-3 in this manner due to the following reasons: 1) It can take 2-3 months for the petition to be approved; 2) You can only work upon approval, not filing; 3) Premium processing is not currently allowed; and 4) If you ever want to travel internationally, you will essentially have to submit another application at a US Consulate or Embassy abroad in order to secure a visa stamp to use to re-enter the US in the E-3 visa status.
In the vast majority of cases, it makes sense for an Australian national to apply for an E-3 at a US Consulate or Embassy abroad, rather than through the USCIS. While consular locations in Australia are preferred, especially if it is a first-time application, it is possible to visit a location in another country under the right circumstances.
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