United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has announced the expansion of premium processing to include the US E3 visa, which is issued exclusively to citizens of Australia. As of February 24, USCIS allowed E3 visa applicants to request premium processing. The announcement is a welcome surprise.
Premium processing enables petitioners to pay an additional fee (currently $2,500) to fast-track (usually within 15 days) adjudication of an E3 visa application. The E3 visa is reserved for nationals of Australia working in a speciality occupation.
While the provisions that govern the E3 visa category are treaty-based, they closely follow regulations associated with making a H1B visa petition. However, unlike H1B visa holders, E3 visa holders are not afforded the same ‘portability’, meaning they can’t switch jobs until a petition is filed by a new employer and approved.
E3 visa processing times currently months
According to official data, the current processing time for I-129s filed without premium processing is between six to seven and half months, making it extremely difficult for E3 visa holders to switch jobs in the US.
Workpermit.com recently reported that E3 visa holders are effectively ‘being forced’ to remain with their current employers because of processing delays attributed to the COVID-19 pandemic.
For most E3 visa holders, in order to switch jobs, they are having to return to Australia or to a third country to apply for a new visa, which is fraught with difficulties given current worldwide travel restrictions.
Premium processing provides relief
The expansion of the US premium processing service to include the E3 visa is a welcome relief for those currently based in the US looking to change employers or change their E3 status for the first time.
With travel to Australia currently prohibited, and consular services Down Under not operating at full capacity, securing an E3 visa has been difficult for many.
The E3 visa became official in 2005. A maximum of 10,500 are issued each year, but the cap has never been reached. This has prompted ministers in Ireland to try and secure access to the remaining E3 visas available.
Recently, Philadelphia Congressman Brendan Boyle, said he was ‘working hard’ to find a legal pathway to US entry for Irish citizens and has plans to enable access to the E3 visa after bemoaning the lack of legal immigration options for Irish citizens.
E3 visa attractive for Australians
The E3 visa is an attractive alternative for Australians, compared to the much more bureaucratic and in-demand H1B visa, the annual cap for which is often reached in hours or days after opening for applications.
USCIS’ announcement is the second step that the US immigration agency has taken to make E3 visas more equal to other non-immigrant visas.
The first step was taken in 2016, when USCIS clarified that E3 non-immigrants, similar to other non-immigrants, could have up to 240 days of continued automatic employment authorization with the same employer beyond their current expiration date, provided that the employer filed a timely extension of stay request.
Workpermit.com can help with US employment-based visas
Workpermit.com is a specialist visa services firm with over thirty years of experience dealing with visa applications. We can help with a wide range of visa applications to your country of choice. Contact us for further details. You can also telephone 0344 991 9222.