This is probably the most common question asked online about E3 visas and the one that seems to trip up every single person I speak to about it. On the face of it, it seems a lot easier to transfer an E3 visa to a new employer than leaving the country and having to go through the whole application process and interview again but there are some considerations you need to make.
The reason this is confusing is first because we need to discern the difference between E3 Status and an E3 visa, you can read about the difference here. In short: The visa is the sticker in your passport that lets you in the country, and the status is what you have once you're inside the country, they're different.
Can you transfer your E3 visa to a new employer?
So now that we know the difference between visa and status, the answer to this is actually NO, you can't transfer the visa, but you can indeed transfer the status of your E3 to a new employer while you remain in the US. The sticker in your passport will not change, but internally at USCIS, you will be attached to a new employer.
Alternatively, you can leave the country, get a new sticker in your passport, and then return to the US and work for that new employer.
How to transfer to a new employer with an E3 visa
This process is just the same as your first visa experience, except you'll get a status of E-3R (returning) instead of E-3. It's the same thing. I've got a full guide on it here, and if you're already in possession of an approved I-129, the process is the same.
How to transfer your E3 status to a new employer while staying in the US (I-129)
The steps required to transfer your status are somewhat like your getting a visa initially, but this is for when you want to stay in the United States, and just transition from one employer to another:
- Collect all your documents together
You'll need to get your letter of offer with all the extra information on it, you'll want to have your degree at hand just in case, and you'll want any other supporting evidence about your experience and your work at the ready.
- Engage with a lawyer
You don't have to have a lawyer but these forms aren't all that straight forward, and it's highly recommended to get a lawyer to help you. Your employer may have in-house counsel who will do this all for you.
- File the LCA
Just like before your employer will need to file an LCA with the Department of Labor in order to make sure they are allowed to employee someone at that pay level for that title of work.
- Fill in the I-129
This includes sub-parts about petitioner information, the petition itself, your information, processing information, information about the employer and employee (which includes the LCA), and export control certification (if required). This document is long and windy and you need to be very careful about how you fill it in. Take time , and answer everything correctly so the process doesn't take longer. The filing fee for an I-129 is $460.
- Consider filing for premium processing (I-907)
If you're changing employer, you will want to file premium processing which will get you an answer within 15 days (as opposed to a potential wait of 6+ months. You can file this together with your I-129 or separately. There's a $2,500 filing fee for this process.
- Wait for your approval or Request for Evidence (RFE)
In many cases, as these filings are strictly scrutinized, you will be asked for more evidence about the job, or your experience, or your employer. They will ask specific questions and you will need to send back an answer asap.
- Start work
Once your approval (I-797A) comes through and you have it in your hand, you can start work! Check the timeline below for details.
Once you've done this and you're working, the important thing to note is that you can't leave the US and re-enter unless you have a valid visa sticker (E-3) in your passport (whether for the old employer or your current employer).
If you do have an approved I-129, this doesn't change the process for you if you want to leave the country and get a visa in your passport, and there's no such thing as “just getting the stamp“.
When to give notice to your employer and transfer timelines
If you are looking down this path then you're likely still working for your current employer and you're trying to balance exactly when you will leave.
You need to consider a few things:
- 60-day grace period – If you leave your employer, you have 60 days of grace to get a new job, so do not forget about this
- I-94 Dates – Be sure to never overstay your I-94 and check that first
- Your contracts – With your current employer and your new employer you'll have contracts that talk about notice and when you have to announce you are leaving. You will need to adhere to these and work them into the mix.
- Your ability to work – This is the trickiest one but if you are transferring in-country then you can't start working for the new employer until you are in possession of the I-797A approval. You also can't work for the old employer if you're in the country after entering on your new employer's visa (and vice versa). You can however work for any US employer (assuming a few things with tax) from outside the United States.
So what's my recommendation? In most cases, if you have to give two weeks notice:
- If you're leaving the country – Best case scenario would be your new employer filing an LCA in advance, with a start date that is four weeks after you give notice. When the LCA is approved, you can give your notice to the old employer to formally kick things off (and you can keep working at this time). You then book a visa appointment around the world for three weeks after notice. So you give notice, two weeks later you take a week off, you then fly out of the country to your appointment, wait a week to get your passport back and return to work. That's a tight turnaround and I would generally give yourself some more wiggle room (and time to sit on a beach between jobs) but that's your optimal timing
- If you want to stay in the country – You have your new employer file an LCA for you to start four weeks after giving notice. When the LCA is approved, you can give your notice to the old employer to formally kick things off (and you can keep working at this time). You then work out your last two weeks, then file your I-129 with premium processing, two weeks later you get the approval and can start working.
Again though – Get a lawyer! These timings are heavily regulated and scrutinized, so you don't want to trust me with your personal situation.
So should you change status or get a new visa?
My general advice to people is if you can take the time, go for a holiday and get a new E3 visa in your passport.
If you don't have the time, then the internal transfer is a wonderful way to bridge and start work and then go traveling and getting a visa in your passport at another time.
If you do internally transfer and then go to get your stamp you have two options:
You can use the LCA you used for the initial transfer, or you can file a new LCA and use that. The benefit of filing a new LCA is that you can extend for a full two years from appointment, as opposed to just using up what's left of the LCA. For example – If you file an LCA to start with a new employer for July 1 2023 and internally change status, then the max length of your stay would be until June 30 2025. If you leave the country and get a stamp in your passport 6 months after starting (January 1, 2024) then your visa will be valid until the same June 30 2025, but if you get a new LCA, you can have until December 31 2025!