There has been a great deal of chatter on social media that if you are an Aussie professional worker, then the streets of New York are paved with gold. The Department of Homeland Security’s latest data is separating fact from fiction.
Ask any Aussie visiting New York and they will tell you that NYC is one of the most “Australian Friendly” cities in the World.
You can now buy a flat white coffee on nearly every corner, Tim Tams are sold in Target, and you can have a meat pie delivered to your door. For the cost of a subway ride you can access more than two dozen Australian establishments serving everything from Barramundi to Vegemite on toast.
Most people attribute the “Australian invasion” to the E-3 visa, however the most recent data from the Department of Homeland Security is telling us that this is nothing more than a myth.
Firstly, lets look at the number of Australians who are entering the US on nonimmigrant visas.
Considering that the $AU is at its lowest value against the Greenback in almost a decade, Australian tourists are not here for bargain shopping! In fact the numbers are more aligned with the S&P 500, or the expected growth of the US economy.
In 2015, there were 1,371,146 entries into the US by Australians using nonimmigrant visas. In the same period, only 36,963 Australians were in the US on nonimmigrant work visas.
Australians on B1-2 visas, which allow stays in the US of up to six months in any one calendar year, grew 54% from 8,359 in 2015 to 12,872 in 2016.
If the number of job related questions from Aussies on tourist visas inside public social media groups is anything to go by, then tens of thousands of Australians who are visiting the US, are looking for full time employment – Immigrant Intent notwithstanding.
For some time the Fraud Detection and National Security (FDNS) arm of USCIS has made a practice of “Friending” individuals on social media they are investigating. “Aussies in [Insert US City]” social media groups are clearly a Target Rich Environment for the FDNS in unearthing Aussies with Immigrant Intent.
Further, new USCIS guidelines for visa application now include providing details of your social media accounts, as well as how many times you have visited the US and for how long, looking back 15 years!
The reality for E-3 Hopeful Aussies is that E-3 visa approvals grew by only 1.6% from 5,527 in 2015, to 5,609 in 2016 – nowhere near the 10,500 limit.
The DHS data also shows that in contrary to the 20,000 – 50,000 number being purported on social media, in 2015 only 11,233 Australians living in all of New York State, are on an E-3 visa. Based on current growth, less than 11,500 are currently living in NYS.
Many Australians are blindly following the trend on social media in believing that the US employers are lining up to employ Australians. They are failing to understand that the availability of E-3 visas, does not correlate with an availability of US jobs.
Based on an increase of 54% in B1-2 visas, and a corresponding increase of only 1.6% in E-3 approvals, the vast majority of E-3 Hopeful Aussies are returning home jobless, and financially strained after months of pounding the pavement.
In the same period, 1,980 Aussies on B1-2 visas were denied entry, many attempting to reenter after having just spent six months in the US.
For those Australians who did get a job offer, many had their hopes dashed after being denied their E-3 visa. For those who applied at a US Embassy outside of Australia, they also found themselves scrambling for an alternate route home, as they were also denied reentry into the US.
For any Australian with a bona fide job offer, aligned with their Bachelors degree, and commensurate with a professional salary, the approval process for an E-3 is very straightforward.
The question is therefore how dodgy was their application paperwork in the first place, or were there external forces that resulted in their E-3 being denied?
In 2016 a total 737 Australians were denied an E-3 and 432 had their E-3 renewal denied. There were 150 Australians who lost their E-3D due to their spouses’ E-3 or E-3R being denied. These numbers were down over 2015, but this would correlate with a decrease in job offers to Australians.
The number of E-3R denials in 2016 was only down by 8 from 158 in 2015. A significant percentage of E-3R denials are Australians who are self petitioning for an E-3 visa after creating a US corporation.
A huge red flag for the USCIS is that after two years when they examine the corporation’s financials, there is still only one employee, and in many instances their W-2 does not meet the minimum professional wage. If the corporation is only supporting the salary of a single E-3 employee, then it is not a real company in the view of the USCIS, and the E-3R is therefore denied.
Zjantelle Cammisa Markel who is the Australian Principal of a US Immigration practice in Manhattan is seeing an increase in the number of E-3 visa applications and renewals being moved to a visa ‘Limbo’ called Administrative Processing.
“I do think that the consulates are determining visa eligibility with more scrutiny under this Administration. Clients now more than ever need to make sure they are complying with the terms of their visas, get paid what their LCA’s said they would get paid, and be prepared to take W2’s to their visa interview”, says Zjantelle, “Anticipate any skeletons that might arise and have documentation ready to combat the issue.”
So what is the take away from all of this data?
- It is a myth that US employers are lining up to hire Australians.
- It is a fact that the number of E-3 visa approvals has significantly slowed.
- USCIS is looking at E-3 visa applications and renewals with greater scrutiny.
- Posting on social media that you are looking for work on a tourist visa can result in you being denied entry into the US – or deported.
- The days of self petitioning for an E-3 visa appear to be numbered.
- There are only c.11,500 Australians in New York currently working on an E-3 visa.
- If you meet an Aussie in New York, chances are they are here on a tourist visa.
- Don’t believe everything you read on social media.
This article is not saying that you cannot pursue your dreams, but if you do want to make the US your home for a few years, be smart about it and avoid making common expat mistakes, and seek professional advice on important expat questions.
So, going back to our original question: How many Australians are living in New York? For any Monty Python fan, this question is as difficult to answer as the one posed to King Arthur by the Keeper of The Bridge of Death:
“What is the air-speed velocity of an unladen swallow?”
So rather than being flung off into the abyss, the correct response is “Tourist or nonimmigrant work visa?”