I decided to move to the United States in 2007. Aside from finding a place to live, the most pressing item on my mind was getting a job. Problem was I couldn’t get a job without a VISA, and I couldn’t get a VISA without an employer’s sponsorship. Simple.
I did not have the money to spend on an immigration attorney so Google and online communities became my best source of information. After countless hours digging around the USCIS home page and British Expat forums, I finally decided the best option for me was an E-3 Certain Specialty Occupation VISA.
Because Australia and the USA are really good mates, this VISA was created along side the Australia-United States Free Trade Agreement back in 2005. One of the brilliant things about this little known VISA is that you have to be Australian to apply. Meaning the 10,500 VISA cap per year is never reached as only a small number of Aussies apply each year. This compared against the similar and highly competitive H1-B VISA, which has a 65,000 VISA cap for the entire world (in 2013, this cap was reached within a week).
Armed with this decision, I now had to figure out, how the hell do I convince someone to sponsor and hire me, when they could just go with a Permanent Resident and skip the paperwork? I tried applying for work from Australia with hardly any success. After trying for a couple of weeks, all the conversations I’d been having with folks online were all telling me the same thing. You need to go to the United States under the VISA Waiver Program (basically you’re at tourist for 3 months), apply to jobs and interview in person.
Now technically you’re not allowed to have intent to look for work when entering the US as a tourist. If you ever intend on doing this, before leaving make sure your resume / paperwork is packed in your suitcase between layers of underwear. Also when chatting with customs, be sure to leave out the “I’m looking for work” part.
Off I went, Qantas ticket in hand to Los Angeles. Before heading off to interviews I put together a strategy on how to deal with the whole “I need a VISA” conversation. Since the E3 VISA had a fairly straightforward and relatively low cost application process I approached interviews as follows:
1. Don’t mention the VISA thing until asked
2. Explain how simple it is for the employer (offer letter, 1 form)
3. I will pay the VISA application costs
With this plan in place I applied to a bunch of different places. I got few bites but nothing solid until I applied for a small start up that built web applications for the public sector. After going through a few interviews I was finally asked about my work status in the USA. I explained to the owner of the company what was required and he said if they give me what I need and I get it done, I have the job. The company wrote up an offer letter, filled out an Labor Condition Application while I began my preparations.
Due to the E3 VISA being a “non-immigrant” VISA, the applicant has to prepare paperwork that proves ties to Australia (assets, bank account, etc). The applicant also has to prove they have the experience/education to be qualified for the job they are applying for. That means copies of academic paperwork and/or proof of job experience need to be shown.
Once I had all the paperwork sorted, I now had to make an appointment at a US Consulate. In order to actually get your VISA, you have to exit the USA and be interviewed at a US Consulate in another country. Some of you might be thinking, that’s easy, I’ll go to Canada. Unfortunately, Canada has some of the busiest consulates in the world and appointments can sometimes be as far as 30 days out (not ideal for someone who wants to start work quickly).
I eventually made an appointment back in Sydney Australia as it had the shortest US Consulate window and was familiar ground. The other tricky part of this, is sometimes the consulate processing time for a VISA can be more than 24 hours (some consulates let you pick it up next day, some mail it to you, public holidays also mess with timing), so booking your trip back to the US can be a stressful guessing game between you, the airlines and the postal service.
The consulate experience itself is the easiest part of the whole process. It’s like the DMV with airport like security. Turn up at the right time and the interview itself is over before you know it. As long as you have all the right paperwork and honest when asked questions, you’re set.
I ended up going through this whole experience three more times, for three separate employers (getting a new VISA is much easier than transferring an existing one). At one point I ended up making an early morning drive down to Tijuana to pick up a VISA at the consulate there. I returned with a VISA and a terrible tummy ache (I could not leave without trying the local cuisine and drinks)
What was really eye opening throughout each of these experiences is that as Australians, we have it pretty good if we want to work in the US. We find a job, fill out some paperwork, pop over the border, pay a reasonable fee, interview and we’re set. Now I don’t want to trivialize the experience as I had to do a ton of research and deal with some pretty stressful trips and job start dates. Though compared to some of the other VISA types I looked at, this was definitely the most straightforward. Having said that I recently got my Green Card and can tell you now it’s a great relief to not have to go through this again when I want to work somewhere.
The one major take away from these experiences is that the US could do a better job of unifying the paperwork, requirements into a more streamlined digital process. The fact that there are different web applications for different forms, fees that need to paid in different countries, all of which need to come together correctly, can make this process daunting for anyone looking to work in the US. All it takes is one mistake in filling out a form, or missing supporting evidence, and your application could get set back weeks or even denied.
I have learnt a lot about the immigration process through my experience in coming to America and getting stable employment. I attribute most of this to a lot of research and persistence in my job search. Knowing that this process can be somewhat daunting I am happy to help in anyway I can for those that have questions about the E3/Green Card process.
Feel free to reach out to me on Twitter via @rustydingo