The American Dream – The E3 Visa Process

In case you missed part two of this adventure, you can read about it here.

A formal offer of employment letter was just the beginning. Now began the visa process.

I had researched the E3 visa process inside out. I found the best site to gain all my E3 information from was this one here - it was the most resourceful of those available online. The fantastic thing about the E3 visa process is that it is easy enough that you can do it yourself without the expense of needing an immigration lawyer to walk you through it.

THE LABOR CONDITION APPLICATION

The E3 visa has many fantastic selling points, the main one being that your employer only needs to file one piece of paperwork for you which can be done online at zero cost to them. This is, more times than not, music to an employers ears.

This form is referred to as an ETA-9035 and your employer can fill it out online and file it electronically with the US Department of Labor. The purpose of this is to show that your employer will be paying you fairly in accordance with your new role and location. If approved by the US Department of Labor, a Labor Condition Application (LCA) is sent back. This process usually takes no more than five business days… or so we thought.

LCA REJECTION

I awoke early one morning to find an email from Ryan in my inbox waiting to be read. Ryan had been great with keeping me in the loop every step of the way so this was no different. The purpose of his email was to inform me that the form they filed for me earlier that week had been denied by the US Department of Labor. To say I was bummed was an understatement; it was like a sad realisation of being so close yet so far. Ryan remained optimistic though and assured me that there must have been a misunderstanding on the LCA. I decided to take his stance on the issue and remain hopeful while they tried to get it sorted.

Fast forward a couple of days and again, I am waking up to another email from Ryan. The cause of rejection had been determined, the error had been corrected and the form had been re-filed for round two. Although this minor mishap delayed my mapped out visa process slightly, given that my LCA was approved this time, we were still on target for a June 4th start date in my new role. Now, with fingers and toes crossed, we waited.

On the morning of April 8, after enjoying a much-needed Sunday sleep in, I roll over and reach for my iPhone. There is one unread email from Ryan staring back at me. Moment of truth…

“GOOD NEWS! We’re approved!

Let me know what the next step is and if you need anything else on our end right now.”

Best Sunday morning ever? I think so.

SCHEDULING THE E3 VISA APPOINTMENT

Now that I had both the approved and completed LCA and formal offer of employment in my possession I was able to schedule in an E3 visa interview with the US Consulant here in Melbourne. They had updated their online system since the last time I applied for a US visa; it was much more user friendly and the booking process was pleasant compared to how I remember it.

Tuesday April 17 at 9:00AM – this is the day that would determine the beginning of the rest of my life.

E3 VISA DOCUMENTS

I had nine days to gather all the other required documents I needed to submit at my visa interview. These included:

  • A passport sized digital photo taken within the last 6 months to reflect my current appearance which was to be electronically submitted during the DS-160 process (next step)…
  • A completed and electronically submitted DS-160 form with a printed confirmation barcode page
  • Proof of payment of the $270 E3 Machine Readable Visa (MRV) application fee. Previously this was only able to be paid at Australia Post but they have since updated their system allowing you to pay it online vie electronic funds transfer or credit card here. Once paid, proof of payment receipt must be printed.
  • Printed visa interview confirmation page

As well as:

  • Passport
  • Signed offer letter of employment
  • Completed and signed LCA
  • A copy of my Bachelor’s degree
  • Supporting documents: these can include mortgage titles, car insurance statements, bank account statements, anything that shows ties back to Australia as proof that you will return home

Most old resources will indicate that you also require a self-addressed Australia Post Platinum Express Satchel for your passport to be returned to you in but this is no longer required as a result of the revamped system. They will supply this as part of the service.

It is also important to note that appointments scheduled online from April 13, 2012, require a lowered E3 MRV application fee. This has been dropped from $390 down to $270. I was five days too early; bastards.

D-DAY: THE E3 VISA INTERVIEW

I hadn’t slept. It’s not that I didn’t want to sleep but nerves were definitely getting the better of me. It was eating away at me; the thought that everything had come down to this moment. The US Official that would be interviewing me come 9AM had the power to make or break my five year dream.

To be on the safe side, I had taken the day off work. Although given an appointment slot, the last time I visit the US Consulate I was waiting for close to three hours.

I arrived super early. I wanted to be first in line for the 9AM applicant pool so that I could put my details through first, reducing the amount of time I had to spend waiting. The lady next to me struck up a conversation. She was only applying for a tourist visa to take a three week vacation with her family to the USA. She brought three huge albums full of photos to prove her life was back here in Australia and that she’d be returning. She made me panic slightly. I had only brought with me two bank account statements as proof of my ties to eventually returning home.

After leaving my bag and phone at the front counter, I walked through security and my paperwork and wallet were put through the x-ray machine. Security was tight and on par with that of an airport. A group of six of us were escorted into the elevator and taken to the third floor. Here, we were greeted with another body-scanning security device before being given a numbered ticket and being asked to take a seat.

It wasn’t long before my number was called to the first window. Here I had to submit my passport, letter of employment and my LCA before being asked to take another seat.

There were several interview windows – each of which weren’t divided or walled off from the other. I could hear everything that was happening at each. I sat there for a good hour just listening. One of the US Officials asked the same interview questions over and over again. So many people, each with different stories, requiring different visas for various purposes however all with the same intent – to visit, work, or move over to the USA. I could hear helpless applicants trying to plead with the US Official after she had told them their visa had been denied. On the contrary, I could hear the happiness and relief in the voices of those thanking the US Official after she’d finished congratulating them on visa approval – this made me smile.

As the calling of my number neared, my heart began to race. I played out both successful and unsuccessful scenarios in my head, more successful, though. It wasn’t a great feeling to hear the four applicants before me be denied their visas but I didn’t have much time to spare a thought for them – my number had been called to window four!

MOMENT OF TRUTH

The US Official gave a calming smile at me as I approached her window. I don’t think I have ever been as nervous or scared in my life. I felt the sudden need to vomit. OMG, this is it.

She took my fingerprints, glanced through my offer of employment letter, asked how I came across the job and then asked to look at a copy of my university degree. She skimmed through my LCA, looked up at me and said…

“Congratulations. Your E3 visa has been approved.”

I wasn’t expecting it to be over this quickly so this took a second to process through my head.

And then it clicked.

“OH MY GOD!!! I love you! If there wasn’t a piece of glass separating us I’d kiss you!”

Yes. This was the first sentence to leave my mouth. I sure have a way with words.

I smiled. Maybe bigger than I’ve ever smiled before in my life. I felt a crazy rush of adrenaline pass over me. I’d done it. I’d done what others told me I couldn’t do. Fuck me, I’ve done it!

I tried to maintain my composure as I exit the building.

THE REACTION

I walked out of the US Consulate and found a place to sit by the side walk. I grabbed my phone from my bag and tried to unlock it. My hands were shaking so badly that this proved to be quite the task.

My first reaction was to call Bryan – the BFF (and one of the people I’d be moving in with) over in the USA. It just so worked out that today was also his birthday so I could kill two birds with one stone.

He answered his phone, I said hi and managed to wish him a happy birthday before I completely lost my shit and started bawling my eyes out on the street while trying to tell him my visa had been approved. He had no idea what I was trying to say. Still crying out of pure happiness and disbelief, I repeat that my visa had been approved. This time he understood me; I could hear the excitement in his voice. He just so happened to be with another friend of mine who I could hear screaming out of excitement in the background. I cried for a few minutes more to him before hanging up.

Time to call my mum and dad, each separate calls because mum was at home and dad was at work. I cried to them both while telling them I’d been approved and how happy I was feeling at that exact moment in time. I cried even more hearing the sound of relief in their voice when I told them – they both knew how badly I had wanted this and I couldn’t help but think of how proud they were both feeling. It’s the best feeling in the world knowing you’ve made your parents proud.

I called a couple of other friends in the US and sent a plethora of texts out to others. A long line of congratulatory texts back to me followed.

I have never felt happiness greater than what I was feeling at that one point in time.

MY RESIGNATION

That very next day I went into work, and although a little nervous, I pulled my boss aside, filled him in on my prior days events and gave my four weeks notice. Although excited, this made me a little sad. I love the small team that I work with; they’ve almost become like a second family to me. The opportunities I’ve been given in my mere 20 months there have been incredible. I’ve learnt so much from the entire team and really feel as though I’ve grown not only from a professional perspective, but from a life perspective too. I’m really going to miss them but, thanks to the wonderful world of Facebook and Twitter, we will be forever connected! I’ll work my last shift with them all on May 18, then we will go out and get very drunk.

There are so many people out there that will tell you that you can’t. What you’ve got to do is turn around and say “watch me.”

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Friday May 25, 2012 will be the beginning of the rest of my life and I couldn’t be more excited or thrilled for the journey ahead of me.

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