02 May 2012

Australian US visa programme struggling

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A US visa programme to allow Australian professionals to live and work in America for two years is struggling to make up the numbers with just a quarter of the allocated number taken in recent years.

US visa

US visa applications from Australian nationals are around a quarter of anticipated levels.

The E-3 category of US visa was introduced in 2005 by the Howard government as part of free trade agreement between the countries. While Australia's Working Holiday programme already offered opportunities to American nationals, the US intended to give Australian professionals an advantage over other nationalities, particularly in professional services.

The E-3 programme began with a capped limit of 10,500 applications per year yet latest figures from the US State Department reveal a worrying lack of interest in the programme; just 2,545 visas were issued to Australians in the 12 months to October 2011, and this is not a declining trend.

Less than 3,000 visas were issued through the E-3 programme in 2008, the highest year between 2006 and 2010.

The lack in interest in the programme is being attributed to relatively strict requirements for an E-3 application as opposed to the more popular H-1B US visa application. To be eligible, E-3 applicants have to secure an offer of employment before applying for the visa as well as have a university degree which allows the holder to work in a 'specialised knowledge occupation'.

"The requirements surrounding specialty occupations definitely preclude a fairly large amount of Australians who would wish to work in the US - people who work in the arts, or retail or some trade occupations, or even certain management roles that don't require bachelor degrees," said Noah Klug, an immigration specialist from Fragomen.

The E-3 was introduce to spare Australians from having to compete with other nationalities through the H-1B programme and, despite poor take up in the E-3 category, applications through the H-1B programme have also fallen; just 537 were granted to Australians in 2011.

Conversely, over 10,000 Americans travelled to Australia on working holiday visas and business visas in 2011 and the Australian government recently announced their intention to fast track visa applications from American workers in order to address skills shortages.

The American Visa Bureau is an independent migration consultancy specialising in helping people from Visa Waiver Program (VWP) countries make their ESTA application.

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