My E-3 had almost run out of time, and it was time for an E3 Visa Renewal! I know lots of people have questions about what exactly the process is, so I'm going to run you through it, as I did it in Bridgetown, Barbados, step by step.
First, a note, a renewal should generally be much easier than a first-time application, but it's important to treat it like your first and do everything properly. For a step-by-step guide to the E3, you can check out this page. The below is a brief version of this, so be sure to read both! It's also worth noting that it's only a renewal if it's the same job at the same employer, and any variation from that is a NEW visa, which you can do in Barbados as well (but not in the Bahamas).
This all also assumes that you have been verbally offered employment by your U.S. employer by the way!
Step 1: Contact a lawyer before getting your visa
Now, lots of you are going to roll over at this point and say “you don't need a lawyer” or “I did mine without a lawyer” or “it's really very easy to do on your own”, and I'm not going to argue with you! The process is not tremendously difficult, I agree, but with my life now established in New York, I don't want to take even the slightest risk that I could have avoided for a relatively small cost.
So why a lawyer? Because they are up-to-date with all the current news, legal nuances, and know the system back-to-front.
My lawyer asked:
- When does your current visa expire?
Don't leave it too close to expiry, because if it expires you can no longer work, and you don't want to be stuck in THAT pickle.
- When did you want to travel (approximately) to renew it?
You have to leave the U.S., so a small trip somewhere is going to be necessary and it's important to clear that with your office before you try.
- Are you applying for the same visa with the same details?
You will potentially have been given a raise, or your office has changed locations, or you might report to someone new, all of these should be highlighted in your LCA (Labor Condition Agreement), so have a think and go through your previous application if you have it to compare.
- Can I please have copies of everything from your last application?
You want to make sure that before you apply, you're aware of anything that was included in your last application. It can't hurt to make sure that you still have access to everything that you required for your first application, for your second one.
Step 2: Submit Your LCA (Labor Condition Agreement)
Now that you've gone through everything with your lawyer, it's time to submit your LCA through the Department of Labor's Foreign Labor Application Gateway. If you've used a lawyer, they or your employer will do this bit for you, but it's always handy to be aware of what's being filed on your behalf before it's filed to make sure you're happy with the terms.
The Department of Labor's Foreign Labor Application Gateway page is also where you can check the status of your application, it will start with “I-” and then a whole range of numbers. Scroll down on the homepage for a place to enter this whenever you'd like to confirm the status of your LCA!
The LCA should take around 5 business days to turn around (they're pretty good about this timeline). When it's certified, it will look exactly the same but the document will say (you guessed it) “Certified” in the footer.
Once you have the Certified LCA, be sure to print it out TWICE and get both of these signed by the person who applied for your LCA (this probably won't be you, this will be your hirer or boss).
You probably won't need the second one, but sometimes disasters happen so it's good if you've got one.
Step 3: Filling in the DS-160
The DS-160 is a huge form, and it's a bit of a pain in the butt because the website is truly awful.
Be honest, be truthful, be exhaustive. Everything really should be quite self-explanatory and you shouldn't have too many questions but if you do, talk to your lawyer.
You do NOT want to lie on this form or tell any half-truths because this will get you in a whole lot of hot water, so BE SLOW AND THOUGHTFUL. Don't make this stuff up, I've seen first hand what happens if you get something wrong (sorry to the guy in front of me who got rejected for a wrongly filled in form).
Also, push SAVE as often as you can because the damn website will keep logging you out and you'll be tempted to throw your laptop out the window.
Also, you'll be assigned an application number at the very beginning of the process, be sure to take note of that and any of the security questions you fill in, you're going to need them down the track!
Once you're done, you will receive a confirmation page that you need to save, PRINT IT, and save it again to make sure.
P.S. One of the questions is “Are you in possession of an approved labor condition application (LCA)?” so I would recommend waiting until you have a certified LCA from Step 2 before submitting, otherwise you'll have to start the whole process again.
Step 4: Booking an Appointment
With your work condition approved and DS-160 in hand, you will now have everything you need to go ahead and book an appointment.
These websites look strange, I know, but they are the places you need to go!
If you're on a tight timeline, you will want to do this early because appointments book up pretty quickly. Generally, consulates will only open up about a month in advance but sometimes you can get lucky and book earlier. If you can't get the exact date you want, check back again later because sometimes spots will open up, but don't miss out! You can also change your appointment time at most locations (up to twice for free) so if you want to keep checking back once you've booked, you might get lucky.
I booked Barbados on the 16th of January for a February 25th morning appointment and there were plenty of appointments available.
Step 5: Booking Flights & Accommodation
You're all ready to go, so you should probably check on flights. Plan to fly in at least the day before your appointment, or if you can afford to, give yourself an extra day to get settled and find your feet. There are lots of tips and tricks for finding flights, but my top ones are:
- Hopper if you're a long way out so that you can track whether it's a good time to buy flights
- Google Flights is great for finding the exact dates across all airlines
If you're looking for somewhere great to stay, check out what I think is the best hotel in Barbados! I've got a special 15% off discount code in the link (hot tip, it's AMERICAJOSH for 15% off)!
Step 6: Compiling necessary documents
The date is getting closer, so here's what you should be holding in your hot little hands, ready to go:
- An Australian passport that is valid for at least 6 months, and ideally is valid for the entire length of the applied-for visa (otherwise you have to carry around two passports, and that's just a pain in the butt)
- (If this is a renewal) The passport that contains your old visa – even if it's not valid anymore, you should still have it with you
- A cover letter – It's handy to have a document, addressed to the consulate that contains a list of everything you've got on you (this list) that summarizes what you're doing there. Any confusion, you can hand that over and they'll have the master list
- DS-160 Confirmation Page – This page will SAY it is the confirmation page and will have your photo on it. It's very important
- Appointment confirmation – When you book your appointment, you'll be able to get access to a list of instructions (that contain basically this same explanation) and it will also contain a barcode (for your DS-160 and the appointment) – Make sure it's all printed clearly.
- Two passport photos – These are to US Passport standards, (5x5cm or 2x2inch). Just go into a pharmacy and get them to do normal US Passport shot, it will cost you around $10 and they'll give you two. YOU NEED PHYSICAL PHOTOS FOR BARBADOS, NO MATTER WHAT YOU'VE HEARD. The photos also must be taken within 6 months, so don't use your last application's documents, because they'll realize and send you away to get new photos. Don't waste your time, or theirs!
- An offer letter from your employer – This must include your personal details, your “salary specifications” (that is the same as what the LCA says), and should also include why you're qualified for this job, what the job is, why it's a specialty occupation that requires a Bachelor or greater, and something about the business itself. The more detailed you can get about all of this, the better.
- Certified University documents and certifications – You need to have any Bachelor degrees you've got handy, and if you've used a third party to certify your degree in the US, BRING IT! The amount of people that think having it done is enough is baffling.
- Other certified accreditation documents for your job – If your job needs extra licenses or accreditation, make sure you've got it printed out. Are you a CPA for example? You need a copy of that (make sure it's an official copy, not just a photocopy). Sure, you might never pull it out of your folder, but you're going to feel much more comfortable walking in with it.
- Print a copy of your passport ID page – I really don't understand this one, but do it. Print out a color copy of your passport profile page.
- Other proof of you and the business – Print out the key elements of the company's website, bring along a brochure, really anything helps. If they want to ask more about the business, you'll have it! Print out your resume, have a copy of it with you to show your experience and why you're so qualified. Bring as many documents as you can to make you feel comfortable that you could describe to a stranger everything you and your business do, from scratch.
Step 7: Go through your documents again!
It can't hurt, go through everything again, make sure you've got everything in a separate space and you know where everything is!
Step 8: Go to Barbados
WOOO YOU MADE IT!
Talk to your hotel if you're in one, or ask around about sorting out a taxi for your morning (most taxis you ride in will give you a business card and would love to arrange to come pick you up later). As a hot tip: When you arrange it with them, you could ask them what it would cost to hang around and wait for you once you're done, because it's nice to walk out, feeling great, and get straight back into a taxi so you can get to a rum bar quicker.
Step 9: The appointment
If your appointment is at 9, plan to arrive no later than 8:30 and ideally even earlier, like 8. Sure, you might spend some time wandering, but you don't want to miss your appointment after all this, and you potentially could get through even quicker.
There are lockers, but try and bring as little as possible. I had my wallet, my phone, my room key, and all my documents from above. That's it.
When you arrive, you'll pull into a carpark and people will be waiting around on the left. Get out of your taxi here and you'll find someone there who can tell you what's happening. This is where they go out to, to tell groups of people to come through.
Once your group has been called, you'll wander into an outdoor area next to some lockers and line up. This line is where they want to check your appointment documents, your passport, and check that you have a DS-160 confirmation page. They'll confirm it all and then give it all back.
You'll pull everything out of your pockets and show them what you've got, which they'll give you a little basket for. If you do have a bag, they'll give you a locker key to put your things into outside.
You'll take your little basket and locker key and be directed inside (just follow instructions). You'll walk through a scanner and then through a door into a room filled with chairs. You'll sit (in my case for only a moment) and then be directed to go through the door to the outside. I was very confused because it was like the lady had directed me to leave the consulate, but if you keep walking, you'll get to more doors and voila, you're now in the room with the interviews.
You'll probably be directed to the right where you'll get in line. When you get to the front, you'll go towards a person behind some glass and they will want to see that you've got all the documents you need (passport and LCA being the key ones) and they will scan one of the photos you've brought into the system. You'll then be given everything back and you'll be directed to line up again to the left.
This is the actual “interview” element. Don't worry about the people around you and their interview processes (i.e. the questions they're being asked) because everyone is different and if they're not going for the same visa you are, you really have very little in common. Ignore any rejections you hear etc. it will just make you nervous!
So when you get asked to, go up to the window for the US Conuslate Official, and again, just do everything they say. They will probably ask for your passport first, and will ask what you're there to do. In my case “Renew an E-3 visa”.
There'll be lots of typing and reading on their part.
I was asked four questions:
- What visa are you applying for?
- What is the company's name?
- What is the title of your position?
- What is your salary (from your LCA)?
- (In the past I've also been asked what my job entails and what the company does, but they didn't want TOO much detail, just a brief overview)
I've not been asked for any of the other documents I was carrying, but this doesn't mean you shouldn't have them.
There'll be more typing and reading on their part and then they'll hand you a colored piece of paper. Mine was blue, which she explained meant that I'd been approved and if I was staying in Barbados, I could go get my passport from DHL when it was ready. It also has some phone numbers and URLs on it to check the status of things.
That was it!
I then picked all my things up and left the consulate the same way I arrived. Don't forget your locker and stuff if you had any!
Step 10: Celebrate
Hopefully, at this point, you've done all the hard bits so it's time to put your feet up and wait.
Step 11: Constantly check to see if your passport is ready to pickup
There's a bit of a wait to hear back from them about when you've been approved but to check the status of your
To check the status of your visa, head to CEAC. (They all generally go into “Administrative Processing” for a short bit while they are being processed so don't worry). After 48 hours, mine was “Approved”.
You can also log in where you booked your appointment to see where that's at, but in reality, mine STILL says “Appointment”. This site will give you a link to DHL when it's ready though.
Step 12: Pick up your passport
A few hours after my visa said “Approved”, on Wednesday afternoon after a Monday morning interview, I got notification from DHL that my passport was ready to pick up!
I got my taxi driver from before again to take me to DHL (it's just near the airport), and he waited for me while I went inside.
For this step you just need some ID on you so that you can get your passport back.
Step 13: CHECK YOUR VISA
Ok, this one is a bit that people miss a LOT and it can cause real troubles.
Your visa will be covered in information, and you should check:
- Your full name
- Your birth date
- Your passport number
- Your Visa type/class
- That Entries is “M” for “Multiple”
- The full company name
- The I- number from your LCA
- The issue date
- The expiry date
- Your nationality
ALL OF THIS.
If ANYTHING is wrong, notify the consulate immediately. You will be able to have it fixed if you are still in the country that issued it, but outside of that, you're going to have to go through the process all over, again.
You do not want to enter the US on a visa that is wrong, either, so just check it.
CHECK IT AGAIN.
ONE MORE TIME.
Step 14: Relax
Spend some time in Barbados soaking up the sun. Enjoy it!