The U.S. economy seems like it is coming back and more Australian businesses are looking to expand their operation in the US market. One hurdle is securing a suitable visa to enable Australians to set up their business in the U.S. or to transfer Australian employees across to support U.S. based operations.

Our summary of U.S. Immigration options for Australians provides a helpful guide.


For business owners wishing to establish operations in the United States, the following are the most common visa options available

  • ESTA Visa Waiver or B-2 Visa:  For temporary business visits.  ESTA allows 90 day visits with no visa; B-2 is for longer visits and requires a visa.  No productive employment is allowed, but can be used to scout business locations, meet with clients, negotiate contracts, etc.
  • E-1/E-2 Visa:  The E-1 visa is available to open a business in the United States to engage in “trade” with Australia.  At least 50% of the overall trade of the business must be between Australia and the United States.

The E-2 visa is for Australian citizens or businesses who “invest” in opening a business in the United States.  There is no minimum level of investment required; it simply must be “substantial” in relation to the overall cost of opening and operating the business.

Investors/owners can transfer into the United States using the E visa, and can transfer Australian employees who are managers, executives or who possess “essential skills.” 

  • L Visa:  This visa allows Australian companies to set up a U.S. branch or subsidiary in the United States.  The Australian company must continue to operate in Australia.  L-1 visas are available to transfer employees who are managers, executives, or who possess “specialized knowledge” of the company’s products, processes, technology, etc.  The employee must have worked for the Australian company for at least 1 year.


For individuals seeking to enter the United States, the following are common options allowing work in the United States:          

  • ESTA or B-1 Tourist Visa: For temporary tourist visits.  ESTA allows 90 day visits with no visa.  B-1 is for longer stays and requires a visa.  Visitor cannot enter with an intent to remain permanently (such as entering to marry).
  • K-1 Visa:  For individuals engaged to marry U.S. citizens in the U.S.
  • E-3 Visa:  For Australian citizens who possess a bachelor’s degree or the equivalent who will be employed in the U.S. in a job which requires a bachelor’s degree as a minimum entry-level requirement.  This is an excellent option for accountants, engineers, teachers, or other degreed professionals. 
  • H-1B Visa:  This is similar to the E-3 for bachelor’s degree-level “professional” positions.  H-1B is available to any individual from anywhere in the world, while the E-3 is available solely to Australians. 
  • E-1/E-2 Visa:  This is available for Australian citizens who work in the United States for Australian-owned companies, and who will work as managers, executives, or individuals with essential skills.
  • L-1 Visa:  Available for individuals working for multi-national companies with operations in the United States.  Must have worked for the company outside the United States for at least one year.  Work in the United States must be managerial, executive, or require “specialized knowledge.”


A “green card” allows permanent residence in the United States.  There are ways to obtain permanent residence through sponsorship by certain family members (such as U.S. citizen spouse, U.S. citizen parents, and U.S. citizen children).  There are also ways to obtain permanent residence through sponsorship by an employer, or based on outstanding or extraordinary skills and accomplishments.  Green cards can take months or years to process, depending on the category.

Special thanks to our Lawyers Associated Worldwide (LAW) member firm, McCandlish Holton, PC and the firms Director of Immigration Practice Group, Mark Rhoads for his assistance in preparing this summary.