On February 24, 2021, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) announced that it would immediately provide the option of Premium Processing for petitioners filing Form I-129, Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker, requesting a change or extension of status to E-3 classification, which applies only to Australian nationals coming to the U.S. to perform services in a specialty occupation. The USCIS premium processing service allows petitioners to pay an additional filing fee of $2500 to ensure a government response within fifteen days. Until now, this service was not available for the E-3 category.
An Australian citizen who is outside the United States may apply for an E-3 nonimmigrant visa directly through a U.S. consulate abroad, or, if the individual is already in the U.S., by filing a petition with USCIS.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, numerous Australian citizens have been severely hindered in their ability to obtain E-3 status for extensions and changes of employer, as nearly all U.S. consulates have been closed to routine visa processing. In addition, processing through USCIS has been subject to extraordinarily long processing times, in some cases up to eight months or longer, forcing many to cease employment pending the outcome of their petitions. This announcement by USCIS will therefore come as welcome relief to many Australians and their employers.
To benefit from this new service, an employer must file an E-3 application on Form I-129 Petition for Nonimmigrant Worker with USCIS and must show that the beneficiary:
- Is a national of Australia;
- Has a legitimate offer of employment in the United States;
- Possesses the necessary academic or other qualifying credentials; and
- Will fill a position that qualifies as a specialty occupation.