E3 Visa: A Step-by-Step Guide

What if you’ve already done the hard work and landed a job offer – what does the E3 visa process to start work actually look like? A friend of mine, Alex P, has very kindly taken the time to step out exactly what she did and what she has learned about the E3 Visa, just for you!

As always, we need to make sure you understand that this is not legal advice, we are not lawyers, and nothing you read below can be relied upon in any way. It is merely an example of one person’s experience and may not apply to you. I strongly recommend you seek professional legal assistance in any immigration matters.

Official pages are always the best, click here to go to USCIS.


E3 Visa Job Hunting

Job hunting in NYC can be a struggle.

Read our advice for job hunters, and learn how to communicate about what an E3 visa is here.

But what if you’ve already done the hard work and landed a job offer – what does the E3 visa process to start work actually look like in action?

The answer to this question is going to look very different if you’re working for a large firm with in-house legal counsel, vs working for a small bootstrapped organization. The process below details my personal experience starting a new job with a small nonprofit in NYC, arranging my E3 visa application without a lawyer’s assistance. I should point out that I was already working elsewhere in the US on an E3 visa, and had hired a lawyer to help with my first E3 visa application – so I had an idea of what to expect (and would recommend you do the same).

First things first – you’re awesome, remember that! You’ve landed a job offer, and that’s a big deal. Yes, the visa process can seem daunting – but there’s no use worrying about what your new employer is going to think. If you’ve already convinced them that you’re the best candidate for the job then a little bit of paperwork and a slightly longer timeline isn’t going to change that. Remain confident in yourself as a candidate and the ease of the process. Don’t indicate anxiety – just play it cool, stay organized, and hopefully, your new employer will follow your lead.

During the last stages of my job interview process, I told my new employer that I expected the visa process to add approximately two weeks that I would normally give my current employer before leaving.

Secondly – it’s on you to stay on top of this process. You’re going to need to check in with your new employer throughout the process to make it clear when you’re working on something vs when something is in their court. If you stay on top of things, the only things the employer really needs to do are:

  1. Write an offer letter (or you could even draft one for them to sign off on – either way, this isn’t an outrageous request);
  2. Submit the LCA form online (but you can do the heavy lifting, actually filling out the form for them);
  3. Check the status of the LCA online.

The Offer Letter

This is the first thing you need before moving forward.

It must outline that your new job is both:

  1. A full-time specialty service occupation requiring your degree; and
  2. Include the salary being offered for your professional services.

Ideally, it will also include:

  1. A brief overview of the company and where your position fits in;
  2. A rundown of responsibilities and duties associated with your position;
  3. Any special tools/ tech that will be used; and
  4. An explanation of why you are qualified for the position (referencing your degree, and any relevant experience).

Yes – this is going to be longer and more detailed than a normal job offer letter. That’s why I suggest drafting a copy for your employer to sign off on, based on the formal offer letter they give you and including the supplementary information above.

Timeline – I received a verbal job offer on Day 1, accepted verbally and received an offer letter on Day 5, and signed that letter to accept the offer on Day 6. I also resigned and gave notice to my previous employer on Day 6.

Filing the LCA

The next step requires your employer to file an LCA (Labor Condition Application, Form ETA 9035) with USCIS.

This is the piece of paperwork where I found having a lawyer to be most helpful, as it’s very specific and not necessarily common sense. You can fill out a draft LCA for your employer to use as a reference when they file via the USCIS website. You can find general instructions here and here.

At this point, if your employer is slow to file the LCA, it delays the whole process – including your potential start date. Make sure you’re available by phone and email to respond quickly to any questions your employer has.

When they’re ready, your employer will file the form online at Foreign Labor Application Gateway, an online portal. Certification usually takes 5-10 days (5 business days).

From this point, you will receive your LCA number.

Timeline – I sent my draft LCA and instructions about the process along with my signed offer letter on Day 6. I included a link to this article (article gone, sorry) to give my employer context on the process. I made clear that this part of the process was up to the employer, and explained that I wouldn’t be able to book a visa appointment until this step was completed. My employer filed the form on Day 7.

Waiting for Certification

The employer then needs to keep an eye on the status of the LCA on the certification website.

If you don’t hear anything at 5-6 business days, I suggest asking your employer to log in and check the status one week after the LCA has been filed.

If you want to check the status of your LCA yourself, use the LCA number you received above and go to Foreign Labor Application Gateway. Scroll down the page to “Search iCERT” and use the “Case Status Check”.

If it still says certification is “in process”, I recommend having your employer check back daily to make sure the process moves as quickly as possible.

Once the LCA is “Certified”, have your employer print the document, sign it, and send the signed and certified document back to you.

Then the ball is in your court, and you can fill out your DS-160 and book your consulate appointment. Explain this to your employer – tell them that you’re working on your application paperwork and booking your appointment, and give them an updated timeline once you’ve done that.

Timeline – I emailed my employer to ask them to check the status on Day 14. My LCA was certified on Day 15.

The DS-160 and Booking Your Appointment

Next, you need to fill out the DS-160 form and book your consulate appointment.

If this is your first E3 visa application, it’s recommended that you do your appointment in Australia (however I did my first E3 visa appointment in Ottawa, Canada in February 2014).

When planning this trip, remember that the appointment wait time estimates on the US State Department website are for US citizens, not us “third-country nationals”. Each consulate has a specific number of slots for these kinds of appointments, so the wait times could be very different than those estimates. You can and should, however, take the listed processing times into account.

Head to America Josh’s review of U.S. visa location guide for reviews of locations, as well as turnaround and wait times!

Here’s a fun fact: even though you have to designate the consulate you’re going to go to at the start of the DS 160 process, it’s actually non-binding!

I selected Mexico City last time, but when I actually went to book my appointment, the wait times were extremely long. I ended up booking in Vancouver instead, and even though my printed DS-160 said Mexico City, there was no problem having my appointment there instead.

The DS-160 form is very comprehensive and will take you some time to get through. Have your passport and any previous US visas on hand, as well as dates for previous travel to the US. Here’s a detailed guide. Do this very carefully.

Timeline – I completed my DS 160 and made my visa appointment on Day 15. The soonest appointment I could get was in 11 days time, so, the appointment was scheduled for Day 26. I told my new employer as soon as I booked my appointment, and gave them an estimate on the wait time. I booked a one-way flight to Vancouver on Day 16.

To book your appointment, there are two major websites that you’ll be directed to, and which one you use will depend on where you’re headed for the appointment.

http://ustraveldocs.com/ and https://ais.usvisa-info.com/

These two websites are the portals to booking your appointment and will take payments and track your progress throughout.

Attending your E3 Visa appointment

You’ll receive specific instructions upon booking your appointment which will detail what you can and can’t take into the consulate, what time to arrive, and other information that you should read very carefully.

Regardless of where you go, you want to be over-prepared in terms of documentation.

This is just about the full list of documents I took to my consulate appointment – even though they didn’t ask for anywhere near all of these docs:

  • Printed and signed copy of Certified LCA;
  • Printed DS-160;
  • Passport;
  • Job Offer Letter;
  • Copy of my degree;
  • Copy of degree transcripts;
  • My resumé;
  • Documentation about your employer, verifying their legitimacy;
    • I work for a nonprofit, so I took our 990 charity form, a recent Annual Report, and a print out of our “About Us” web page;
  • Bank account print out and driver’s license from Australia
    • To show ties to Aus;
  • Prior US visa paperwork as appropriate;

Important note for people already working in the USA

At my most recent visa appointment, where I was going from one unrelated E3 visa position to another, the consular officer also wanted to see my most recent US tax return and pay stubs from my previous employer to prove that “I’d been doing what I said I was doing” (his words, not mine).

  • Unexpected late addition: Recent US Tax Return;
  • Unexpected late addition: Recent US Pay Stubs;

I had not seen these documents included on any list of required documents prior to my appointment. I was given a slip with an email address to send these documents to, and my visa application status changed to Administrative Processing. Luckily I had these documents saved online and sent them right after my appointment, and it didn’t delay the process. If you’ve already been working in the US, I suggest taking those documents with you as well.

Timeline – I had my last day of work with my previous employer on Day 23, flew to Canada on Day 24, and attended my appointment first thing in the morning on Day 26.

Getting your E3 visa, and starting your new job!

Check the estimated processing/turnaround times for all consulates, as you should take this into account when booking your appointment and communicating with your employer.

For my last visa appointment, I only booked a one-way flight and waited until my visa had been processed before booking my return ticket.

After your appointment, you can keep track of the status of your application here. I waited until mine was “ready for pick up” before booking my return flight for that same day.

Timeline – I had my appointment and my visa application status changed to Administrative Processing on Day 26. In the morning of Day 28, the status changed to Approved, then it changed to ready for pick up that afternoon, sooner than expected. I booked a same day flight back into the States and went from my hostel to the Post Office to pick up my passport, then straight to the airport that afternoon on Day 28.

I had already planned a start date with my new employer that gave me a bit of a buffer because I was moving cities and needed time to tie up loose ends and move into my new apartment.

As such, I moved to NYC on Day 38 and started work on Day 40 of this process. For someone already living in NYC, particularly someone who’s not already employed and expected to give two weeks notice, this process could feasibly be done in under one month, from offer to start date.

Key takeaways

Research and communication are the most important elements.

To shorten this timeline, I recommend thoroughly researching appointment wait times and processing times and communicating frequently and clearly with your new employer to make sure paperwork gets filed ASAP.

Take care of yourself.

This process can feel really overwhelming, so be sure to reach out to your friends and fellow Aussies for support and look after yourself throughout the process. Drink water! Exercise! Pet a dog! Once you get through this, you’re starting a brand new job which is all sorts of stressful in its own way, so you don’t want to be totally worn out.

Hire a professional.

The timeline above is just one person’s experience, and in no way substitutes formal legal advice. The best way to improve your chances of having a smooth application experience is to hire a professional.