The US and Australia have maintained strong diplomatic ties for decades, and their collaboration on govt and political levels are stable. Now, the two countries have a unique bilateral partnership. The resemblances in foreign policy, environment protection, intelligence and defense, and security are there. The AUSFTA and ANZUS treaty has helped in cementing the relationship between these 2 countries. Apart from political visits, the two countries also play vital roles in boosting the tourism industry in one another. Just like millions of US residents visit Australia every year, millions of Australians travel to the USA for various reasons. The reasons include business, job, education and touring, etc. It is, therefore, no wonder that the USA has included Australia in its VWP program.

What is the US VWP and what it means for the Australian Citizens?

The US Visa Waiver Program enables residents of selected countries to travel to the USA for a specific duration for travel or business needs without using a visa. The requirements have to be met for using VWP. Since an Australian citizen is under VWP, he/she needs to use ESTA. This is what enables the citizen to travel to the USA sans visa. It does come with some limitations, though, and ESTA is not precisely a visa replacement. It is an electronic system for determining the eligibility of the VWP country residents to travel to the USA. So, by default, an Australian citizen needs to apply for the ESTA under VWP if he/she is planning to visit the USA for the short term.

When an Australian resident has to opt for Visa to travel to the USA

While an Australian resident is required to opt for ESTA to travel to the USA as per VWP norms, sometimes this may not be applicable. Under certain situations, an Australian citizen will have to apply for a suitable type of US Visa instead of the ESTA. This can be necessary when the applicant does not fulfill essential conditions for the VWP but wants to travel to the USA. These include:

  • If the applicants wish to/need to spend over 90 days in the USA.
  • If the applicant wants to study or work in the USA.
  • If the applicant wants to immigrate to the USA.
  • If the applicant was previously denied admission to the USA as per VWP norms.
  • If the applicant has a criminal past.
  • If he/she has a communicable disease that is unsuitable for travel using the ESTA.

The available Visa options for Australian citizens

When an Australian citizen is deemed eligible for traveling to the USA using ESTA, the only option left is applying for a US Visa. The person needs to visit the nearby US embassy and apply for a US Visa as per the procedure.

The US visa for the Australians can be broadly classified into 2 categories- Immigrant and non-immigrant, and these have subtypes.

  • US immigrant visa for Australian citizens

An Australian citizen willing to immigrate to the USA needs to obtain a petition cleared by the USCIS- U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to be eligible for immigrant visa application. This petition can be filed either by a potential employer or a qualified relative at a US USCIS office. The details can be found on the USCIS website. They need to pay USCIS Immigrant Fee. They also need to undergo the embassy or consulate interview on the appointed date.  The immigrant visas are processed by U.S. Consulate in Sydney only.

  • US non-immigrant visa for Australian citizens

The US nonimmigrant Visa for Australian citizens can be of varying types.

A US nonimmigrant visa can be used by those Australian citizens who want to tour the USA, conduct business, study in the USA or visit for special purposes. The US Consular services in Australia can be availed in the U.S. Consulates in Melbourne, Perth, and Sydney. The Canberra based U.S. Embassy does not deal with visa applications. The applicants for all US nonimmigrant visas need to complete the DS-160 application form.

1. Australian Professional Specialty- E3 visa

The E-3 visa can be availed by the Australian nationals and their spouses and children. They can go to the USA to work in specialty professions. There is no upper age limit. An E-3 applicant needs to meet specific academic and occupational requirements. The US Consular services assess documents and credentials of such applicants. To apply for the Australian Professional Specialty or E3 visa, an applicant needs to find a job in the USA first. In Australia, applicants getting clearance for the E3 visa get it issued within a week of the interview. The applicants may need to submit additional documentary evidence.

2. E3 D/ dependent visa

The applicants need to prove to the consular officer that the claimed relationship is not false. This can be proved typically by marriage certificate for spouses and birth certificate for children-who are dependents. The principal recipient must have an E-3 visa.

The dependent needs to apply for an E3 D visa separately. It is almost same as applying for the E-3 visa. The dependent can apply with the principal applicant and also after the E-3 visa of the main applicant is issued. While every dependent need to make a separate visa application, the kids under 14 who are permanent residents of Australia or Australian citizens are not required to attend interviews, usually. E-3 spouses can work in the USA but not the kids. E-3 visa applicants are allowed in the USA for 2 years, but they can usually renew it without hassles.

3. Business/Tourist Visa

The B-1/B-2 visitor visa can be availed by the Australian residents traveling to the USA for business/ pleasure or medical treatment temporarily. The B-1 visa is meant for those traveling for business conventions/conferences, scientific, educational programs, etc. The B-2 visa is for those seeking recreational tourism and medical treatment etc. These are often mixed and issued as one. The consular officers taking interview of the applicants will go through the Supporting documents. They may ask for original documents like Current proof of income, travel itinerary, payslips, relative’s proof of status, etc. The applicants visiting the USA for medical needs have to show relevant medical documents.

4. Work Visa

The Australians who are willing to work in the USA as a nonimmigrant temporarily need the work visa. They may need petitions filed by prospective employers which should get a nod of the USCIS. This is called Form I-129.  The subtypes include H-1B visa, H-1B1 Treaty-based Temporary Work Visa, H-2A visa, H-2B visa, H-3 visa, H-4 visa, L-1 visa, L-2 visa, Type O and Type P visas. There are also Q and R type visas.

H-1B specialty occupation visa – It is for those coming to the USA to work in a pre-arranged professional employment. Those with bachelors or higher degree can apply.

H-1B1 Treaty-based Temporary Work Visa -It’s for qualified Chilean and Singaporean citizens –not for Australians.

H-2A visa – This is for allowing foreign nationals to fill agricultural jobs temporarily for which the U.S. workers are unavailable.

H-2B visa – This is for those coming to the USA to work in jobs seasonal in nature and for which there is no available US worker.

H-3 visa – It is needed when an applicant is about to receive training from a company for 2 years, barring graduate education or training.

H-4 visa – It is for spouses and kids of an H Visa holder. They, however, can’t work in the USA.

L-1 visa – It is needed when an MNC temporarily transfers an employee to a subsidiary, parent branch, affiliate in the USA. This MNC may be the U.S. or foreign entity. It is allotted to those in the managerial or executive jobs.

L-2 visa – It is aimed at a spouse or unmarried children of an L visa holder.

O Visa – These visas are for people with extraordinary skills in arts, education, sciences, and athletics, etc.

P Visa – It is given to certain athletes, artists, and entertainers heading to the USA for performances.

Q Visa – It is for those traveling to the USA to participate in an international cultural exchange program for providing practical training or employment etc.

R Visa – It is for Religious workers conducting religious worship and in religion centric jobs.

5. Student Visa

It is for Australians who come to the USA for studying/pursuing higher education. The student visa applicants need the approval of their schools/institutes. The schools gave them required documents for applying for a student visa.

There are 2 types of F1 and M1 visas. The F-1 visa is needed for those planning to get admitted to U.S. college or universities. Those seeking entry in non-academic or vocational US courses need the M-1 visa.

6. Exchange Visitor Visa

This is for foreign citizens coming to the USA for taking part in exchange programs. The applicants may include students, trainees getting on-the-job training, teachers, professors, etc. They need the approval of apt authorized program sponsor. It is also called J1 visa, and the spouses and kids of J1 visa holders need the J2 visa. The J2 visa holders need to use Form I-765 to work in the USA.

7. Transit/Ship Crew Visas

The Australians traveling through the United States to a foreign destination needs a transit visa. This does not include those eligible for the ESTA under VWP.

The D visa is for the crew member who is serving onboard a ship or aircraft in the USA. Some crew members may also need B-1/B-2 visas-based on their type of work and stay in the USA.

8. Journalist and Media Visa/I visa

It is a nonimmigrant visa for foreign media representatives traveling to the United States temporarily for job needs. The members of the radio, film, and print industries are given this visa. The reporters, film crews, and editors are prime examples.

9. Visitor visa

A visitor visa can be obtained when the applicant’s purpose of travel to the USA is any of the following activities:

  • For Media representatives attending conferences or meetings in the U.S. as only participants.
  • Media representatives visiting the U.S.A for lecturing, of guest speaking or similar academic activities. They have to comply with certain norms here.
  • The foreign media outlet employees for buying U.S. media equipment.
  • A foreign media journalist is only vacationing in the USA and not for his/her professional needs.

10. Treaty Trader (E-1) and Treaty Investor (E-2) visas

The E1 and E2 visas are for citizens of countries that have treaties of commerce and navigation with the USA. Australia is one of those nations. To become eligible for these visas, the applicants must visit the USA for engaging in substantial trade or to develop the operation of an enterprise with capital investments. Their spouses and the kids may opt for dependent E visas. The trading activities must take place mainly between Australia and the USA- in this case. They must depart the USA after their E Visas get exhausted. Their dependents may opt for work authorization once they reach the USA.