The United States has several different types of visas that allow for non-Americans to live and work in the US.
Australian citizens are in a beneficial position because Australia and the United States have an arrangement that allows only Australian citizens to have access to the E-3 Specialty Occupation Visa
The E-3 visa allows a US Business to employ an Australian Citizen on a temporary basis, and is a popular option for Australians seeking to live and work in the United States. The E-3 visa is significantly cheaper than other US work visas and it also avoids the large backlogs, volume of applicants and compliance complexity that are associated with other options such as the H-1B.
The E-3 is renewable indefinitely and contains provisions for spouses and children to accompany the primary applicant to the US.
While the E-3 is the most popular path for Australians seeking a visa to work in the United States, there are other options for those that either don't qualify, or have different circumstances that require consideration of a different visa class.
In this article we answer the following questions about US Work Visas and discuss other considerations regarding employment of Australians in the US.
- How can I get a job in the USA from Australia?
- How do I get a work visa for the United States from Australia?
- Can I do business in the US on a Visa Waiver?
- Are there any other US work visas that I can apply for?
- US working-holiday visa for Australian citizens?
- How much does a US work visa cost?
- How long is a work visa in the United States?
- Who can sponsor me for a US work visa?
- From tourist visa to work visa in the United States?
- Help for Australians with visas for employment in the US?
How can I get a job in the USA from Australia?
The initial step in obtaining a US work visa is to apply for a job in the United States, and receive a job offer from an employer located in the US.
Finding employment in the US is not too different to that in Australia. The initial challenge some Australians may face is convincing a US company or business to hire a foreign national, which is often the result of perceived difficulties in compliance or processing.
Even US employers that are willing to sponsor non-American citizens for work visas, may not be familiar with the processes that need to be undertaken for you to legally work in the US, or the type of visa required.
For Australians who want to work in the US, the best option to consider is the E-3 visa for an Australian in a Specialty Occupation. The E-3 visa is only available for employment of Australian citizens, and it generally represents the best opportunity for an Australian seeking employment in the USA.
It is not uncommon for US Employers to not be familiar with the the E-3 visa category. The more common and widely known employment based visa categories such as the H-1B, are more expensive and routinely backlogged because they accept applications from multiple countries in large volumes.
If your prospective employer is hesitant in sponsoring you for an employment visa, mention the E-3 as a beneficial option that is uniquely available to employ an Australian Citizen in the United States, and avoids many of the difficulties and complexities associated with the H-1B.
In these circumstances, consider contacting us to consult with your prospective employer and explaining the process and advantages of an E-3 when hiring an Australian to work for their US business.
How do I get a work visa for the United States from Australia?
The initial step in obtaining a US work visa is to apply for a job in the United States, and receive a job offer from an employer located in the US. US work visas require the US employer to sponsor the applicant, so the first step is to come to a general agreement with a US employer that they will be willing to sponsor your employment in the US.
Most Australians who work in the United States are on E-3 visas. The E-3 Australian Specialty Occupation visa is only available for Australian citizens and must be for a position that the US Department of Labor determines is a role that would typically require a four year bachelor’s degree - or - the equivalent of twelve years work experience.
Australian University undergraduate degrees are typically three years in duration, however these can be accepted if your application is processed through specific United States Consulates, and not USCIS. There is typically no requirement for an applicant to have a post graduate qualification as long as the application follows a specific path.
For applicants that do not have a university degree, a processes to certify equivalence is required. This process will demonstrate the applicant satisfies the skills criteria required by the US work visa and that the applicant possesses the knowledge equivalent to a four year undergraduate degree.
Most other work visas such as H-1B visas or L-1 visas are applied for first through the US Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS). With many employment visa petitions, the application may take several months to be reviewed by the USCIS.
Fortunately, the E-3 visa can be applied for directly through the U.S. Consulate, with the application bypassing the USCIS and saving several months in extended processing time and delay. The government fees when applying directly through the US Consulate are much lower than H-1B applications through USCIS, and the complexity of compliance burden on the US employer is significantly reduced.
For more specific and detailed criteria for E-3 visa applications and applicants, please visit our E-3 FAQ
Can I work in the US conducting business on ESTA or a visa waiver?
It is an area of US immigration law that is a bit ambiguous, especially with the changing dynamics of a global marketplace.
In general, you may travel to the US on business if your business is based overseas and the purpose of travel is for the furtherance of your foreign business.
- If a US business benefits from your time in the US (for example, you are a consultant working with a US based business and getting paid for your services), then you might need the correct work visa.
- If you are in the US to attend meetings, conferences or trade shows, you can generally use a visa waiver or a B-1 visa for this purpose.
The B-1 visa does not expand what you can do in the US for business, it merely will allow you to enter the US for longer than 90 days per visit if necessary.
This area of US Immigration Law is often subject to interpretation and adjudication of different government departments. As a general rule, if you intend to conduct any business in the United States, it is best to seek legal counsel on the options available in your specific circumstances.
Are there any other US work visas that I can apply for?
Depending on your circumstances, there are other categories that you may qualify for and are appropriate for your type of work or situation. These include;
- L visas for Intra-Company Transfers
- H-1B visas (generally used for non-Australians)
- B-1 visas for conducting business in the United States
- E-1 or E-2 treaty trader or treaty investor visas for business set-up and employment in the US
- O visas for Individuals with Extraordinary Ability or Achievement
- P visas for Athletes, Artists and Entertainment Groups
- Other Immigrant visas where the purpose is to transition to a permanent resident Green Card
- Other visa classes that may fit your circumstances
We work with hundreds of clients a year processing less common and more complex Australia to US work visa applications and renewals. We strongly advise applicants to retain appropriate counsel throughout the process.
US working-holiday visa for Australian Citizens?
Many Australians have heard of the working holiday visa that is available for various people from around the world to come to Australia and work in almost any field for a short period of time.
Unfortunately, the United States does not have such a program. Work visas in the United States will require that the U.S. employer sponsor the visa application from the start and additionally, most US visas require that the applicant have a bachelor’s degree - or - extensive experience and be in a position that is essential or specialised.
How much does a US work visa cost?
Government fees and legal fees can vary greatly depending on the visa category as well as the legal services that are provided by the particular law firm.
For example, the H-1B specialty occupation government filing fees range from $1,960 USD to $6,460 USD depending on the size of the employer and the number of employees they have on H-1B visas.
The E-3 Australian specialty occupation visa is one of the least expensive visa categories as the government filing fee is only $315 USD which is paid directly to the U.S. Consulate. Government fees are usually paid to either the US Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) and/or directly to the US Consulate,
It can be expected that the legal fees associated with a visa application will range from $2,500 USD to $5,000 USD depending on the visa category, expertise and the specific services provided by the firm.
How long is a work visa in the United States?
Visa categories in the US have different amounts of time that allow you to live and work in the United States. The E-3 specialty occupation visa for Australian Citizens is granted in (2) two-year increments and can be renewed indefinitely (E-3R), subject to the applicant continuing to meet the current E-3 criteria.
The E-3 has provisions for changing employers in the US, expedited processing if required, and allows dependents of the primary applicant to accompany them to the US on an E-3D visa subject to meeting criteria for spouses and children.
US work and investment visas such as the E-2 Treaty Trader Visa can be (2) two or (5) five year increments depending on the circumstances of the application.
O-Visas are evaluated on specific evidence presented in the application.
The H-1B non immigrant work visa is generally issued for (3) three years with an extension period of a further (3) three years, though is more difficult and costly to process. H-1B visas are open to a far greater application pool, and are capped at 65,000 applications per year.
Who can sponsor me for a US work visa?
A US employer that is a registered legal entity and physically located in the US, can sponsor you to work in the United States. In most situations, the sponsor must be an existing and independent US employer – that you are not a majority owner or shareholder.
There are exceptions to this under Treaty Trader visas such as the E-2, though for most common US work visas there must be an employee / employer relationship established.
There is no requirement that the employer be of a particular size or in a particular field.
Individuals cannot sponsor you for a US work visa, it must be a US business, though there is no specific requirement of business structure. The most common business structures in the US are the LLC, C-Corp and S-Corp though there are less common structures that can qualify for sponsorship.
The visa category will determine the documentation and evidence required by the US employer. The US employer will require a person in the company to act as the signatory on legal documents related to your sponsorship.
The US employer will have their business verified by the US Department of Labor as well as receive a certified Labor Condition Application (LCA) with specific conditions that the US employer and employee must strictly adhere to as conditions of employment.
For other visas such as the H-1B the requirements are more complex and require the US business to satisfy several criteria even prior to the position be considered acceptable for a foreign labour hire.
From tourist visa to work visa in the United States?
Most Australian citizens travel to the United States under the Visa Waiver Program (ESTA) when traveling as a tourist or a business visitor. Individuals cannot change their visa status when they are in the US with the Visa Waiver Program (ESTA). There is no path or process of transition from ESTA to a United States work visa.
US work visas require a direct application for a specific visa type and class, to signal your intent to work in the United States. It is generally required and advised to first process your application through a US Consulate outside of the United States. It is recommended to submit your application through your country of residence, as consular appointments are allocated differently to resident and non-resident applicants.
The ESTA Visa waiver program should be used specifically for tourism, or as a qualified business visitor.
Help for Australians with visas for employment in the US?
US work visa applicants and employers will generally engage a specialist US Immigration Lawyer for assistance to prepare documentation and obtain the required certifications from the US Department of Labor.
We recommend working with a specialist with experience in the US Immigration system to ensure to your visa application meets or exceeds all compliance measures and standards, and that the application submitted to the US Citizenship and Immigration Service or the US Consulate is complete, accurate and of the highest quality.
While it is not a legal requirement, it is recommended that you retain professional counsel from a legal team with specific experience in United States employment visas, and in the case of Australian citizens, having knowledge and experience working with the Australian based US Consulates is highly beneficial.
The experienced US Immigration Team at Worldwide Migration Partners are ready to help you with all US work visas, including the the E-3 Australian Specialty Occupation visa. Please contact us to discuss your US work visa questions, and we will be happy to assist you in your application.
About The Author
Melissa Vincenty is a US attorney, an Australian migration agent and the founder and managing director of Worldwide Migration Partners. Melissa has over 25 years of experience in migration law, including practising at the world’s largest US immigration firm and more than 15 years as a Country Specialist (China and Tibet) for Amnesty International USA.
Disclaimer: The information in this article is general in nature, may not, and is not intended to constitute the most up-to-date legal or other information, and is for general informational purposes only. It does not represent legal advice specific to any individual/s situation, and should not be relied on as such. Please contact us for a consultation for legal advice for your individual circumstances.