Category Archives: Visa

My Green Card Journey: E3 to H1B to GC

6 years in the US, 1 x E3 visas and 2 x H1Bs it was time to bite the bullet and get a Green Card. 1 hiccup (delay) along the way, 1 year after applying for a Green Card and $12K later we got our Green Cards. Here’s how this journey went.

I left Sydney (Australia) and arrived in Silicon Valley in 2009. The plan was simple and short. Get Couponstar Ltd acquired by Coupons, Inc., profit, then go home. 2 years max. Unfortunately life doesn’t always work the way we want it to. Fast forward to 2015, 6 years later, our H1B renew maxed out (6 years). It was time to move to a Green Card or go home back to Sydney.

Go home or stay

Going back to Sydney was off the cards. There was so much more we wanted to do in the US/Silicon Valley. Going back to an E3 (like H1B but only for Aussies) meant I would continue to be tied to a US company while in the US; golden handcuffs. I learned that most things in life do not go to plan and we cannot predict much with certainty. Tying one self to an entity that governs your life is also not an astute life decision. So a Green Card it was.

September 2014 – My Green Card Journey begins

We reached out to Peter Roberts at Roberts Immigration Law Group. Peter came highly recommended by a good friend from Y Combinator (YC). Peter is an outstanding immigration lawyer who does work for YC and other startups. He also recently (Dec 2015) did an AMA (Ask Me Anything) on Hacker News here. Worth a read if you want more info on immigration to the US.

Peter is based on the East Coast but the distance wasnt a barrier. Throughout this process I never met Peter face to face. It was all done via email and phone calls. Maybe one day I can personally meet Peter.

Our 1st call with Peter left up feeling extremely positive about the process and Peter. That feeling we had was a result of Peter’s experience and his ability to communicate complex processes in a way that made sense. Peter advised us there are 3 Green Card routes I can take but only 1 will allow me to possibly get a Green Card.

Green Card Options

1. PERM (Employer Sponsored Labor Certification) – employer sponsors the employee. Note, you must be an employee and not hold more than a typical employee nugget of equity in the company. If you are a co/founder of a company this route will not work for you since that nugget of equity is substantially more than a typical employee’s.

Also to obtain an approved PERM Labor Certification, the employer must prove (through newspaper advertising and other recruiting methods) that they were unsuccessful in recruiting a qualified U.S. worker for your position.

2. Extraordinary Ability Green Card – EB-1 – you must demonstrate extraordinary ability in the sciences, arts, education, business, or athletics. You are demonstrating that your entry will substantially benefit prospectively the United States. No offer of employment is required for this category but if you are running a company in such value adding field then you want to demonstrate this correlation.

3. Marriage – to an American citizen. This is the fastest and cheapest way to obtain residency in the US.

Option 3 via Marriage was out. Option 1 via PERM was also out due to my equity ownership in my startup. This left me with Option 2; Extraordinary Ability (EB-1) on the basis of a career of acclaimed work in the field of endeavor.

As a Software Engineering working in the Health sector and cofounding Medlert, a logistics and communication platform for hospitals and ambulance companies; my lawyer had confidence this route would work. This was amplified by the fact that I also have had the pleasure to talk at various industry events on technology disruption in healthcare and the opportunity to work with great investors. Now to meet this extraordinary ability, I had to meet 3 out of the 10 listed criteria outlined below to prove “extraordinary ability in my field”.

Planing for a Green Card – Start Early!

I often recommend people start thinking and planning their Green Card as early as possible. Especially if you plan to satisfy the requirements of EB1A – Extraordinary Ability Green Card. Add value to the US economy either through the company you represent, industry contributions and/or relevant publications. Also start blogging to establish your own brand. TIP: You can list your blog in EB1 requirements.

If you plan to obtain your Green Card through PERM (Employer Sponsored Labor Certification) then also start early. Not just working hard but building something key/special around your name. Again a blog helps to create that unique persona and separates you from the rest. Remember this is all going to help your employer when you apply. They need to list your position open for few months and then prove to the US gov they failed to find someone like you. So make yourself unique, special. One of a kind!

October 2014 – and so it begins… documenting our life

To kickstart the whole process our immigration lawyer sent us a list of everything they needed to begin the submission process. From documents to photos to a medical exam. A medical exam I hear you say; yeah a medical exam to make sure we are immunized against a US specific list of viruses.

Power TIP: I found that starting a shared folder on Dropbox was far better than emailing documents to Peter. Most email clients have a limitation on document size which you will most likely hit. Dropbox doesn’t. Furthermore, using Dropbox allowed me to digitize and categorized all these important documents into the 1 place. The search in Dropbox also helps when you need to find any document or picture fast. If you have never used Dropbox just follow this link to get started with few gigs of FREE storage: https://db.tt/QDC0nvU

The to-do list

1. Schedule a medical exam. The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) outlines physicians who are authorized by USCIS to administer this medical exam. The USCIS-authorized physician performing the medical exam needs to complete Form I-693. Vaccination requirements can be found here. After the exam, you need to send the Medical exam results in sealed envelope back to your lawyer.

2. Passport photos. 8 photos each. See photo instructions to make sure you get the right ones.

3. Birth Certificates – Since Urszula and I were both born in Poland (but lived in Australia for most our lives) we needed to obtain birth certificates from Poland Civil Registry Office (Urząd Stanu Cywilnego) that has jurisdiction over the place of occurrence. That is complete copy (odpis zupelny) not an abbreviated copy (odpis skrócony). The abbreviated copy provides insufficient data for the US Embassy. This is important. Then have a local translator translate them. We used online …

A complete copy of a birth record provides the following information: the last, first and middle names of a child, gender, the place and date of birth, the full names of the parents, dates and places of their births, their places of residence, mother’s maiden name, whether or not the parents were legally married.

4. Marriage Certificates. A complete copy of a marriage certificate with the following information: the full names and previous marital status, places of residence, places and dates of birth of the concerned couple, the full names of the parents, the names of two witnesses, and the married name of each party.

5. Employment history. Past and current. Including employment authorization prior jobs e.g. United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Form I-797 approval notice(s) and visa(s) and Form 1040 from Internal Revenue Service (IRS). It’s good to keep these in your Dropbox.

6. Copy of all passport pages; even if blank. I used my iPhone to take photos and again threw them up on Dropbox. No need for a scanner like the old days 😉

7. Copy of back side of our I-94 cards.

See why having all this in Dropbox is helpful. There is a lot of documents to share with your immigration lawyer. Email just doesn’t cut it especially if you need to check back and see whether something was already provided or not.

8. RILG – Immigration Questionnaire. This is a 7 page document full of questions like:

  • Information about U.S. Employer inc founders, equity, investors, funding, revenue and what the company I co-founded does.
  • Information about Employment is about your Role. From a detailed job description to your salary, benefits & stock.
  • Information about Employee is about You. Where you live, SSN, spouse etc..
  • Complete copy of employee’s and employee’s family’s current passports, including blank pages and I-94 admission “cards” if in U.S. (available online).
  • Copy of any USCIS approval notices and any other relevant documents (for example, Form I-797, Form I-20, DS-2019, EAD, etc.) relating to current and past U.S. immigration status (both non-immigrant and immigrant) of employee and employee’s family.
  • Copy of employee’s CV. Yeah that’s you. We are all employees even of our own company.
  • Copy of employee’s tertiary diplomas (and transcripts) from any universities or post-secondary schools attended in United States or abroad.
  • Copy of any professional licenses or certificates held by employee.
  • Copy of corporate establishment documents of U.S. employer (such as certificate and articles of incorporation).
  • Copy of U.S. employer’s business plan and/or pitch deck.
  • Copy of U.S. employer’s most recent 409A valuation report.
  • Copy of press (online, print, etc.) about U.S. employer.
  • List of U.S. employer’s major clients, current and projected revenues for each client, and copy of contracts with same.

Satisfy the Requirements of EB1A – Extraordinary Ability Green Card

  • “Published material and press about prospective employee and prospective employee’s work.”
    • This is very specific to your employer/company but try to tie it to great good and US economy.
  • “Original scientific, scholarly, or business-related contributions of major significance, including patents and provisional patents.”
    • I have 1 Patent under the belt. Apparatus and Method for Network Based Remote Mobile Monitoring of a Medical Event.
  • “Authorship of articles in professional journals or other major media”
    • Personal blog like The Road to Silicon Valley is acceptable inc.
    • other media I appeared in like VentureBeat and News.com.au.
  • “Participation on panel, or individually, as judge of work of others”
  • “Speaking engagements/conference presentations.” Here is an example of few I listed on my application:

    • TriCON 2014, San Diego. Topic: The Future of Medical Transport
    • PINNACLE 2014 EMS Leadership & Management Conference, Scottsdale, Arizona. Topic: New Perspectives on EMS Reimbursement & Focus Group
    • ZOLL Summit 2014, Denver, CO. Topic: Mobile Technology in Medical Transportation
    • Evening with The Social+Capital Partnership: Personal Health Edition, Topic: A Mobile First Approach to Disrupting the Archaic Emergency Response Ecosystem.
    • Redline Executive Summit 2014, Orlando, FL, Topic: Connected Healthcare
  • “Noteworthy work/achievements at U.S. employer and previous employers”
    • This is basically your work history. Mine included being a CTO of a company acquired by a US entity (Quotient Technologies formerly Coupons.com) to founding Medlert, a company in the Healthcare space doing something disruptive.
  • “Letters from prior employers documenting 10 years of employment – i.e., confirming dates of employment and positions held and providing description of role and accomplishments”
  • “Names of 10 potential reference writers understanding that primary purpose of letters is to talk about potential impact/value of U.S. employer’s products and/or services and secondary purpose is to talk about employee’s role/importance in success of company and its products and/or services”
    • Before you include anyone as a reference you should always reach out to them to get their approval.
    • Mine included GPs of the VC firms that invested in Medlert (Social Capital Partnership & Subtraction Capital) and few other notable figures in the industry that we worked with.
    • It is pivotal that you network. Business is about people. And these people may one day be your references in where ever life takes you.

As mentioned above, even before you apply for a Green Card, make sure you are:

a. You are deeply engaged in your industry/profession eg. talk/present at industry events.

b. References – Important to have industry and accomplished references here. Build deep connections. Business == People. Make sure the reference you include in your application have seen you work and can backup your claims.

December 2014

The lawyers submitted all this information listed above to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and provided us with a Green Card application receipt notice in the form of Form I-797C.

Next Steps; assuming all the paperwork is moving forward, USCIS will schedule a biometrics appointment (finger prints) for you to have your biometrics electronically captures at a USCIS Application Support Center (ASC). The notice for this arrives by mail. Your lawyer should also alert you of this so you don’t miss it.

Most time is spent waiting with other immigrants at the USCIS. The actual finger printing process is fast. If you ever came through immigration in the US you would have already been familiar with this process.

May 2015

The I-140 national interest waiver petition has been approved. Woohoo! This means that I-485 “Green Card” applications should be approved soon as well. At this point we were thinking any week now. But little did we know what would come next.

June 2015 – Hiccup!

USCIS asked us to provide different versions of our birth certificates. Remember what I said above about providing sufficient birth certificates. We provided abbreviated copies (known as odpis skrocony in Polish) and USCIS wants us to provide complete copies (known as odpis zupelny). This means we needed to apply for them at the nearest Polish consulate or directly at the Civil Registry Office. The former turns out to be a 3 month turn around process, few hundred $$$ later and 0 guarantee of success. A joke right. So we reached out directly to our family in Poland to help us organize it from the actual city council we were born in. Note we are Australia citizens for most of our life yet where we hatched was a big deal. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

A month later we had the complete copies of our birth certificates. Sign of relief. But this wasn’t the end of that. We now needed to translate the Polish complete copies and have them notarized. I found https://www.rev.com/certified-translation/birth-certificate-translation/polish and gave them a try at $27 per page with a 48 hours turnaround. Unfortunately the 48 hours turned into 1 week.

We sent everything to the lawyers. And waited for our Green Cards.

September 2015

Our Green Cards have arrived! Sorry for the wacky pic but it was the 1st pic I took lol.

Ernest Semerda holding his Green Card

The whole Green Card process took close to 1 year. And half way through this journey our H1Bs expired. Apparently this is ok and deportation was never an issue 😉

How do I feel? Like Ultron!

“I had strings. But now I’m free. There are no strings on me.” ~ Ultron

How it feels to have a Green Card ~ "I had strings. But now I’m free. There are no strings on me.” ~ Ultron

Visa == Chains

A Visa is a chain to an employer. If you are an employee on a Visa you may be getting the short end of the stick. I will explain this in a future blog post and why it’s pivotal you are off a Visa ASAP. This is one of those things hardly anyone talks about but is an issue that affects you personally. Knowing your rights and options helps.

Total Investment

Immigration Lawyer
Peter Roberts
Email: proberts@robertsimmigration.com
Website: http://robertsimmigration.com/

Legal Fees:

  • $5,000.00 for I-140 NIW petition
  • $2,250 for the principal’s I-485 application
  • $2,000 for the spouse’s I-485 application

USCIS Filing Fees:

  • $580.00 for I-140 petition
  • $2,140.00 for I-485 applications

Miscellaneous Expenses:

  • Copying, mailing, tracking, etc.: $150.00

Rev Translation Service

  • URL: https://www.rev.com
  • Certificate Translation $54
  • Notarization $20
    • $74 x 2 – 1 for Ula and 1 for me

Total: $12,268.00 and 1 year to get those Green Cards.

Power TIP #2: Have a good GTD system in place. Human memory limitations means you will not remember all of the above items. Create a to-do list aka Project as it is know in the GTD world and collect stuff to do there. I used GSDfaster which is a productivity app with the GTD method as it’s core. Full disclosure; I built GSDfaster. Get app from here.

Power TIP #3: Check out http://www.simplecitizen.com/ — they simplify the whole US immigration process. This is a brilliant startup idea! I have never used their service but I understand the pain points they are solving and it makes total sense.

If you have a different experience or want to share yours please do so below. Would love to hear your story.

~ Ernest

H1B visa: how to get a h1b visa in usa

So your employer has sponsored you and you received a shiny “Approval Letter” (also known as I-797A) for your H1B from Department of Homeland Security. Your done. So you think. Until you realize that you don’t really have a Visa. Not in your passport nor did it arrive with that shiny document.

H1-B

H1B

What gives?

The story is that you DO NOT have a H1B Visa. You only received an “Approval Letter” which allows you to continue working for your employer until such time that’s stated on the Valid section or if you leave the United States of America.

What this means

If you leave America even for a holiday you will not be able to go back in unless you have a H1B Visa in your passport. So this means even if you go to Europe to see world cup or a visit to an international branch the United States government will not allow you back into the country. Even though they have given you an Approval Notice.

What now

Don’t panic! It’s ok. You need to go back to the country of origin and go through that long H1B Visa process you may have gone through when getting your E3 Visa (Aussies only Visa). Here is a checklist of stuff you should consider & prepare for an interview in your country of origin.

Here's how to get back into the country!

Here’s how to get back into the country!

Prepare for H1B Non-immigrant Visa Application:

  • Make sure you have a “Valid passport”. Check the expiry dates on it.
  • H1B approval notice (in original). This is that shiny document also known as I-797A.
  • Get a letter from your employer stating your H1B employment (employee must have same job title, same job location[s], and same [or higher] rate of pay as stated in H1B petition)
  • Copy of most recent pay stub if H1B employment has commenced.
  • Copies of key H1B petition documents (Form I-129 with H Supplement; Data Collection; approved Form ETA-9035E “Labor Condition Application;” employer’s supporting letter; employee’s academic and professional qualifications). Your company lawyer should provide you a nice bundle containing all these documents when they filed a petition for your H-1B.
  • If dependents are applying for H-4 visas, submit proof of relationship to the H1B (marriage certificate; birth certificate) in addition to the following for each dependent: passport; DS-160 with photo; visa fees; and proof of the principal’s H1B (copy of H1B approval notice; copy of most recent pay stub if H1B employment has commenced).
  • If you changed titles (roles) and this isn’t reflected in your original petition document you have 2 options:
    • File a petition to change your title. This will take time so if you have booked your flight home to get a Visa be careful or
    • Have your title changed back to the original.

Fill out a bunch of forms:

  1. H1B Visa fees.
    1. Pay the application fee online (http://canberra.usembassy.gov/niv_fees.html). You can get a family member to do this for you too. Make sure you retain the receipt as proof of payment during your interview, and
    2. Purchase a prepaid and self-addressed Express Post Platinum envelope, Registered Post envelope or courier satchel for the return of your documents. Failure to provide this will cause a delay in the processing of your application. Used to be the case – now it’s part of the mammoth of fees you pay.
  2. Fill out the Online Nonimmigrant Visa Application (DS-160)
    1. Dedicate around 1-2 hours to this long process. Many many questions.
    2. You will upload a passport photo of yourself. Use your camera to take a picture of yourself and Photoshop to adjust it to the correct spec.
    3. At the end of the process Print out the Confirmation page. You will need to bring this to your interview.
    4. Here: http://www.travel.state.gov/visa/forms/forms_4230.html
  3. Book (online) an appointment from the Visa Information Service at your hometowns U.S. Consulate General.
    1. Here: http://www.ustraveldocs.com/au/

Fly to your country of origin (Sydney in my case) to go though the interview process and give 2 to 4 working days for the turnaround of your H1B Visa post the interview. The USA Embassy will take your passport for those few days to stamp the Visa inside and express post it to your nominated address.

Now you’re ready to rock and roll! Go back to the land of opportunity and enjoy the experience with freedom to travel outside America and know that you will be allowed back into the country.

~ Ernest

E3 visa: e3 visa for australians

By far the easiest way for an Australian Citizen to work in the USA is on an E3 Visa.

The E3 visa is a United States visa for which only citizens of Australia are eligible. It was created by an Act of the United States Congress as a result of the Australia-United States Free Trade Agreement (AUSFTA) for Australians going to the U.S. to work temporarily in a “specialty occupation”. A specialty occupation covers anyone with a Bachelor’s degree with a body of specialized knowledge. In my case this was a Bachelors in Computer Science, MBA and the specialty knowledge I held within the company which would ultimately help the International arm of the USA firm expand.

“The E3 visa allows for the temporary entry into the United States of individuals who are to perform services in a specialty occupation for a U.S. employer. It currently applies only to nationals of Australia, their spouses and children under the age of 21.”

How the E3 Visa looks in your passport

How the E3 Visa looks in your passport

A bit about the E3

  • Takes around 1-2 months to organise.
  • Costs you a non-refundable application fee of US$131 and your employer (sponsor) around $4,000.
  • E-3 visa is renewable indefinitely (in 2 increments) as long as your employer is willing to sponsor you.
  • Spouses may work in the United States without restrictions on what is called E3D (D is for Dependent) once they have successfully filed and received a work permit (form I-765).
  • Your intention is to depart the United States upon expiration your authorized E3 stay.
  • Not a path to a Green Card.
  • You can only apply for th E3 within Australia. Not U.S. This creates some headache when wanting to switch to an E-3 offboard from a student scholarship or Visa Waiver Program (VWP).
  • You need to have a job offer from the U.S. before you can apply for the E-3 visa.

Why not H-1B (at first)

  • Takes longer to acquire.
  • Spouse cannot work and needs to be on a H4 dependent visa. Unless your spouse gets sponsored by a USA company for a H1B Visa.
  • Subject to the 65,000 annual world-wide visa limit. E-3 annual quota is 10,500 E3 visas to Australian’s only.

What your sponsor (the employer / their immigration attorney) may ask you for

  • Your & your partners history in the USA and where you stayed,
  • Prior USA visa details (Visa Waiver Program (VWP) is not counted),
  • Any prior refusals / cancellations to the USA,
  • Any immediate family that is a U.S. permanent resident or U.S. citizen,
  • Past 10 year history of travel around the world – for security purposes,
  • Countries which have issued you passports,
  • Your Bachelor’s degree for an “education evaluation”. Australian degrees are typically 3 years while USA 4 years. Uncle Bill needs values education highly, wants to see are a not cheap labor and are professional – nothing to worry about,
  • Your resume to show work history which may also be used to obtain the equivalent 4 year degree pass for Uncle Bill,
  • Military service details (if applicable).

What you need to do in Australia to organise the E3

Once your employer (your sponsor) has successfully lodged a Labor Condition Application (LCA) with the US dept of Labor they advise you to organise an appointment with the US consulate. During this time while you wait for the LCA (green light), you should be doing your part to apply for the E3 visa.

Step 1: Get a head shot Photo from any Fuji shop. This will be a USA Visa photo and thus requirements are different then an Australian passport photo of 5×5cm. See here for a guide: http://travel.state.gov/visa/guide/guide_3877.html

Step 2: Complete the online DS-160 application form and print the confirmation page. See here: https://ceac.state.gov/genniv/

Step 3: Book an appointment online to your closest U.S. Consulate General. See here: http://sydney.usconsulate.gov/consular/ The wait time is around 2-4 weeks.

Step 4: Pay the application fee of US$131. This can only be done at the Australian Post, you walk in and tell them what you want to pay for. No need for any special document. They act like a holding bank for the US consulate.

Step 5: Gather additional required documents – your employer / attorney will provide these to you in the 1 bundle. These will be the documents the employer would have asked you (see above). You will need these for Step 6.

Step 6: Personally appear at the U.S. Consulate with:

  • Job offer letter,
  • DS-160 confirmation page,
  • Appointment confirmation,
  • Original Australia Post receipt confirming the payment of the Visa application fee,
  • Pre-paid self-addressed envelope (registered post) – make sure it’s those tough plastic envelopes since your passports will be coming back in this,
  • 2 passport sized photos for each required Visa
  • the bundle of documents your employer provided you.
  • and most importantly to get accepted in the interview, make sure you bring documents (evidence) which indicate you intend to return to Australia once employment ceases. This is done through documents like real estate investments, proof of a return airfare or financial ties. A statement is typically adequate. Don’t forget the intend of the E3 and your stay of 2 years.

It’s a bit of work from both sides but in the end it always pays off. Just don’t forget to communicate with your employer (sponsor) to speed up the process of organizing documents.

FAQ

    Can I apply for a Green Card on the E3?

  • There are risks. Since E3 is not a dual intent like the H visa’s, i.e. the intention to be here temporarily or to file for a green card. The way around this is to consular process for your green card. As a practical matter, when you have filed the second step of the green card process, you must disclose that on any immigration petition. An officer could decide not to renew the E3 even if you are going to consular process.

    What other safer ways can I apply for a Green Card?

  • Ask your employer nicely if they can sponsor you on a H1B. You at maximum 5 months before the E3 expires. This is going to cost them a lot more than the E-3 but is definitely worth it if you and they value each others business.

    What is the process of renewing the E-3

  • Start this process with your employer 5 months before your visa expires. You WILL have to leave USA to do this. You can either go back to Australia for a holiday or to Canada and apply at any U.S. Embassy or Consulate which processes non-immigrant petition-based visas. Read this PDF on more detail about extending your E3 visa: http://www.uscis.gov/files/pressrelease/E3_010606PR.pdf

    How long can I stay in the U.S. after I finish my job?

  • You can stay 10 days after you finish your job. This is NOT enough time to transfer your visa to a new employer (unless you started earlier) or apply for a different type of visa. You and your spouse (if under E3D) will be forced to leave the country. This is why you should carefully think about your intent in the USA before committing to anything long-term financially (house) or personally (starting a family).

Finally

Not many employers know what a E3, only H1B visa. If your company sponsored you then they know but if your spouse needs to find work on a E3D,  make sure you can educate them on the whole E3 visa, how it works and it’s similarity to the H1B visa.

If you are interested in the journey my wife had with getting the paperwork and job organized under a E3D visa as an Occupational Therapist then click here to read her story.

Online Resources

E3 Visa Wiki: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/E-3_visa

U.S. Consulate Genera in Australia: http://sydney.usconsulate.gov/consular/

Visa Passport requirements: http://travel.state.gov/visa/guide/guide_3877.html

Consulate General of the United States – E3 Visa: http://sydney.usconsulate.gov/consular/visas/niv/e3.html
GROWUSA – International Recruitment agency that specialises in the placement of Australians and New Zealanders to work and live in the USA.
http://www.growusa.com.au/

More Startups. More Jobs. – Support Innovation & Job Creation in America: http://startupvisa.com/

~ Ernest