Dear almost Americans - tips and tricks for the E-3 Visa

So… Now we’re in the US and the long E-3 saga is over (until I need to renew anyway) and I’m getting an SSN (although we’re still sorting out Ruth’s EAD work authorisation) I thought I might put down a few thoughts, notes and tips on the whole process.

The visa application

  1. Read EVERYTHING - even if you’re using a lawyer - and then READ IT AGAIN. Don’t assume your lawyer knows what they are doing - they’ll probably be taking care of your employer’s Department of Labour application and EAD - and your end is largely up to you. If ONE piece of data or ONE piece of paperwork is incorrect they will reject your application and it’s back to square one with associated delays and costs.

  2. Check the ONET Job Code on your application is correct - that one cost me two weeks of delays and a new application. It must be a job code that requires a Bachelor’s Degree or better. The code is put on your DoL application by your lawers - so make sure it’s right because they’ll need to re-apply if it’s not. Costs, etc.

  3. Make sure you get the right photos - they are very picky about photos and they should be in line with their guidelines.

  4. Make sure you fill out the DS-160 correctly - save often when using the form and keep a copy of your application data - you may need it again.

  5. Bring everything to the interview - documents, supporting documents, educational assessments, transcripts, proof you are going to return (rates notice, family pictures, etc etc). Better to have it all than miss out and have to come back because you forgot to bring something.

  6. Don’t forget your appointment confirmation page, the original Australia Post receipt for your visa application fee and your pre-paid self-addressed envelope - sometimes they are nice and let you run and get the latter but sometimes not from what we saw.

  7. Consular officials have absolute authority and there is no or limited right of appeal. So make sure you have all your ducks in a row and if you don’t - then don’t argue. Better to take your lumps and try again.

  8. Be prepared to wait. You’ll take to several people and visit several different areas - all with much waiting in between. We spent 6-8 hours in the consultate in Melbourne. Bring a book. Seriously.

Once you arrive

  1. US Customs do not have a sense of humour and smiling and using “G’day” on them does not work (it does however work on most other Americans - which is damn useful :) ). Have ALL your paperwork with you. They can ask to see anything from your application and query details. From my experience and other accounts it generally goes okay but be prepared to answer questions and produce bits of paper.

  2. The white card (I-94) they attach to your passport is important - the number on it is your “Alien Registration #” or something like that. Don’t lose the card or detach it from your passport - and write the number down somewhere. If your partner is going to work she’ll need this number to apply for her I-765. Also needed are photographs and a copy of both sides of your I-94 card.

  3. Wait 10 working days before you apply for a Social Security Number - this is apparently how long it takes to process your arrival into the country into the various government databases. No idea if this is accurate but it seems like a reasonable premise.

  4. The Visa policy sheets at the Social Security Administration hadn’t been updated (as at Jun 2010) with all the E-3 visa information and the staff member I spoke to was concerned my application wouldn’t work. It turns out that you can make an application and it’s not rejected by the SSA’s systems - just be polite and persistant.

  5. You can get paid without an SSN - just write “Applied For” on your I-9 form and then update it with your employer later when you get the SSN.

  6. You can also sign up for most services - albeit with a lot more hassle in some cases - without an SSN - just be polite, say you don’t have one and ask about alternatives. In most cases my passport number or sending a scan of my passport worked.

  7. Money - this is a tricky one. Americans banks are backwards when it comes to banking - you’re going to be shocked about how many people write cheques for things. Cheques! Additionally, international transfers (telegraphic transfers etc) cost an arm and a leg - USD$30-$50 dollars. I’ve worked around this by moving to HSBC which has zero fee transfers from my Australian HSBC accounts to my US ones and vice versa. They also have linked Internet Banking so I can see all my accounts from one screen. They also didn’t ask about an SSN and transferred my credit history across to the US. Awesome sauce.

Overall, good luck and feel free to add any questions to the comments and I’ll do my best to answer them.

Please note I’m not a lawyer and my advice is entirely based on my experiences - consult with an immigration lawyer rather than take my advice at face value. Also I can’t help you find a job (unless you can want one of these jobs). Good luck!