E3 Visa Renewal in Ottawa, Canada
In this article I detail my recent experience renewing my E3 visa for another 2 years. Again, I made some stupid mistakes that made life hard for myself and am writing this blog to hopefully stop you doing the same.
It’s been 2 years since I first moved to live and work in the USA. I moved here with an E3 visa to work for an online marketing company. Initially, I had some setbacks obtaining my E3 visa which I have detailed in another article titled "The E3 Visa for Self-Employed Australians". In this article I detail my recent experience renewing my E3 visa for another 2 years. Again, like the first time, I made some stupid mistakes that made life hard for myself and am writing this blog to hopefully stop you doing the same.
- If you're looking for an E3 Visa Lawyer, don't look past Immigration Bureau. They have great service and are incredible value for money. They also have a great resource on How to get an E3 Visa.
- Don’t leave it too late (or too close to your visa expiry date) to book your renwal appointment. 2 months out, maximum!
- Expect that everything won’t go according to plan. Plan for the process to take at least 2 weeks.
- If you’re working for a small company / firm, be prepared with some proof of the financial viability of that firm.
- Take nothing for granted regarding timelines / approvals when applying for a visa or visa renewal. Visa fraud is not uncommon. It’s the consular officer’s job to be skeptical and it is completely within their right to ask for additional information and proof to support your application, and that process takes time.
- Sometimes you can get conflicting information from different government departments. Only listen to the government department who is in charge of what you are asking about. In my case, the only advice that mattered is what Border & Customs was telling me about re-entering the USA on my old visa.
- If your passport return status hasn’t been updated in the Canada Post online tracking portal for a while, it can’t hurt to just check in at the Post Office to see if it’s sitting there waiting. Mine was, and I’m glad I checked and didn’t wait longer.
I should stress that none of the information in this blog constitutes legal advice about obtaining a visa for the United States. I’m simply trying to share my experience for others who are interested. If you're looking for information on how to get an E3 Visa, please visit Immigraiton Bureau's website.
Like my first attempt at applying for an E3 visa I set about educating myself about the process by reading some information online. I read a few blogs about people who had successfully recently renewed their E3 visas in Canada, and since I live close to the border I decided I would do the same. Even though what I read online suggested that renewing an E3 visa was more of a formality than applying for one initially, I didn’t want to take any chances. I contacted the Immigration Bureau team – the immigration lawyers who handled my first successful E3 visa application – to help me get my paperwork in order.
Some background on the E3 Visa
The E3 Visa is a specialty work visa specifically for Australians. In many ways it’s similar to the H1b visa, except since it’s limited to Australians only, it’s easier to get. In fact, the quota of 10,000 of E3 visas available for Australians each year has never been exhausted. Even though it’s not a green-card-route visa, you are eligible to renew your E3 visa for 2 years at a time, assuming you still meet all of the eligibility criteria (i.e. you are being sponsored by a US company to work in a profession that you have a bachelor’s degree level qualification in).
Visit the US Embassy website for more information about the E3 Visa qualification criteria and more information
Preparing the paperwork
Similar to my experience of them last time, David and the team at Immigration Bureau were incredible to deal with. They responded to all of my questions promptly – often in a matter of minutes. In preparing my E3 visa renewal paperwork, the Immigration Bureau E3 visa lawyers handled all of the following:
- Applied for an updated LCA for my employer
- Looked up the new minimum wage requirements for the role that I would be employed in and ensured that my new position was compliant
- Wrote a petition cover letter laying out all of the facts of my application and how it fulfills the legal requirements for the E-3 Visa
- Drafted an application letter for my employer to finalize and sign
- Included a “Notice of Entry of Appearance as Attorney or Accredited Representative”
- Added a collection of other supporting paperwork about my role, position description and qualifications and how it meets the requisite definition of a “professional specialty occupation”
All of this work saved me a LOT of time in doing it myself (not that I would, after my past experience), but in terms of value for money I was very happy!
Attending the E3 visa renewal interview (in Ottawa, Canada) and some hard-learned lessons
I went online to schedule my E3 visa renewal appointment at a US embassy in Canada. Apparently you can renew an E3 visa from within the United States, but the process takes 6 months. (Plus after those 6 months or so that it takes to approve, although you will receive a formal approval notice with permission to stay in USA and work in E-3 status --- you won't get a visa stamped into your passport-which is required if you wish to travel outside USA and back in. ) So, I decided to do things the traditional way where you visit an embassy outside of the US and attend an interview to establish your visa eligibility. To make an appointment to see a consular official in Canada, you use this website and find an appointment time that suits you: https://ais.usvisa-info.com/en-CA/niv/users/sign_in. When I did this, I could see that I could get an appointment in Vancouver within 3 days, but the wait time in Montreal was 2 months, and Ottawa was 1 month! This really pushed me close to my visa expiry time. But, I was very confident I’d be granted my E3 visa renewal without any trouble, so I booked in Ottawa (I didn’t want to fly all the way to Vancouver from the East Coast just for the interview, and Ottawa is only a 3 hour drive from where I live).
- Lesson 1: Don’t leave it too late to book your appointment.
I had estimated the process would take around 5 days: to attend my appointment, get approval, leave my passport and receive the returned passport with my new visa. My appointment was booked for a Monday, so I figured that I’d be driving back to the USA on the Friday afternoon. Stupidly, I booked some international travel for a vacation for the following Wednesday.
- Lesson 2: Expect that everything won’t go according to plan. Plan for at least 2 weeks.
I attended my appointment at the US embassy in Ottawa and approached my interview with confidence. I was asked a range of questions about the company that I worked for, ownership of that company, number of employees and so on. One thing I had forgotten to bring with me (despite being told by the Immigration Bureau lawyers), was proof of the company’s past work and ongoing contracts. Somewhere along the way I had assumed that since I was there renewing my visa, and had survived by being employed in the USA for 2 years that I wouldn’t need this like I did when I first applied for my visa. I was wrong. What’s more is that they tried to access the company website during my interview, but claimed the website was down (it wasn’t, I suspect they typed the web address incorrectly). In any event, I wasn’t in any position to argue, as they don’t allow you to take your phone into your interview with you.
- Lesson 3: If you’re working for a small company / firm, be prepared with some proof of the financial viability of that firm.
E3 Visa Placed in “Administrative Processing”
My E3 visa application was not approved instantly like I had expected– instead it was placed in “administrative processing”. I received a yellow form where the consular officer requested that I email additional information to them to support my case. They wanted to see proof of past work, and future contracts that the company held to prove that the company could continue to pay my salary. They handed back my passport and sent me home.
I was devastated!
- Lesson 4: Take nothing for granted regarding timelines / approvals when applying for a visa or visa renewal. Visa fraud is not uncommon. It’s the consular officer’s job to be skeptical and it is completely within their right to ask for additional information and proof to support your application, and that process takes time.
I instantly contacted the Immigration Bureau E3 visa lawyers who set about helping me prepare the additional information requested. In 24 hours we had compiled a collection of supporting evidence, including:
- A letter from my employer outlining my work and providing a more detailed summary of projects I had successfully completed as well as on going projects.
- A number of contracts with our clients showing future income
- A copy of the company 2015 tax return to prove financial viability of the company
- A collection of the past 6 months of my pay stubs showing that I had been getting paid for my work from the company
- A portfolio of work that I had completed, including examples of eNewsletters I had put together, Facebook ad campaigns, websites we have built, SEO copy I have written and so on (because I’m a digital marketer)
The worrying part of this was that I had read that administrative processing can take up to 60 days. I had also heard that while you have a pending visa application, or are in administrative processing, you can’t travel back to the USA as your old visa becomes void as soon as you apply for a new one. Not wanting to miss my holiday, I wanted to do the following:
- Send my supporting evidence to the embassy and await their response
- While waiting, I wanted to travel back to the USA (because I still had my passport with me) and go on my vacation and my E-3 visa stamp was still valid for 2 more weeks.
- After my vacation, I would return to Canada (literally on the day my visa expired) and send in my passport to get the new visa added (you must send your passport FROM Canada. You can’t post it from the USA).
I was told by the US embassy that I would not be able to re-enter the USA on my old E3 visa, but to be sure I rang US Border & Customs. They told me that the information I had received from the embassy was incorrect. As far as they were concerned, if I had a valid visa in my passport and met the eligibility criteria I would be allowed back in to the country; they didn’t care that I had a renewal pending. The guy I spoke to even double-checked with his superior, who confirmed this.
Luckily for me, 36 (very worried / anxious) hours after sending my supporting information to the embassy I received an email requesting that I send in my passport. I must note that during this wait time Immigration Bureau was incredibly supportive! And made themselves available to answer many of my “what if” and other hypothetical scenario-based questions. Initially when I received the reply email, it wasn’t clear if my application was approved or not, so I emailed back to clarify. They confirmed my visa was approved. I sent them another email notifying them of my intention to return to the USA and then mail them my passport in a few weeks. They confirmed this was OK with them, and they asked that I notify them a week in advance so that they could send me a new mail label.
- Lesson 5: Sometimes you can get conflicting information from different government departments. Only listen to the government department who is in charge of what you are asking about. In my case, the only advice that mattered is what Border & Customs was telling me about re-entering the USA on my old visa.
I traveled back to the USA on my “old” E-3 visa, went on my vacation, and returned to Canada 2 weeks later to send in my Passport. I sent it from Montreal (as it was a closer drive for me), and waited 7 business days to get it back. I followed the tracking code closely online, which strangely said that the passport had returned to Montreal on a Monday, but wasn’t updated in over 24 hours as “available for pickup”. I thought I’d check at the Post Office to see if it was there, and sure enough it was. I traveled back to the USA that afternoon.
- Lesson 6: If your passport return status hasn’t been updated in the Canada Post online tracking portal for a while, it can’t hurt to just check in at the Post Office to see if it’s sitting there waiting. Mine was, and I’m glad I checked and didn’t wait longer.
I now have another 2 years in the USA working in a job a love, for a great company. I strongly recommend using a visa lawyer whenever applying for an E3 visa or renewing one. Without the advice and support of Immigration Bureau, I’m convinced I would have run in to a lot more trouble and might have found myself with no choice but to fly to Australia from Canada and try to fix things from back home!