12 Jul. 2006

The E-3 visa sham

moved up to front with updated info

In the 'free trade' agreement Australia made with America in 2004, there was a much-trumpeted provision to allegedly make it easier for Australians to go to America to work. A unique class, the E-3 visa, just for Aussies – what a rare privilege!, we were told.

In the SMH's fatuous MyCareer supplement last week, this puff piece about E-3 appeared. "For most of us, working in the United States has been the stuff of fantasy. Not any more." it thundered. Given that this visa scheme's been in place for over 18 months now, there isn't much cause for excitement. Particularly as the article actually reveals that no-one is really using it. The scheme allocates 10,500 places for Aussies annually, but it seems about 20% max of that is being taken up. What gives?

Well, for one thing the visa criteria are very restrictive. Only highly-qualified people are eligible for it, and even then, it seems to be discretionary, not based solely on objective criteria, whether one ultimately qualifies. What this means, it seems to me, is that this visa is designed to allow people who will obviously be able to land good jobs in the US the right to go there. But these people don't need a visa class, because if you can land a good job, you can do just that and get sponsorship in most cases. My suspicion, though I can't prove it, is that the couple of thousand people who are using the new visa are people who could have got work permits by existing means but find this new visa to be easier to get or to have less stringent conditions.

Either way, on the best case scenario, it's an elite visa, which is not about freedom of movement for Australian labour, but rather a selectively-permeable membrane allowing skill-drain to the US, with nothing passing in the opposite direction. Like everything else about the FTA, America gets the right to take what it wants from Australia and give nothing back in return. The Australian government does not represent Australian workers in its dealings with the US government. It represents US-owned corporate interests.

A week after the original post (5th July), and MyCareer is at it again. Puffing the E-3. OK, this time, they do have an apparently bona fide E-3 recipient! Well, no, her partner is one. But she feels that that entitles her to be utterly dismissive of the unhip fucks who can't go and work in NYC, like her. Although she hasn't got a job yet.

How did her partner get in?

He was headhunted by his employer, the Japanese bank Nomura Securities, on the recommendation of an Australian friend who has worked there for four years. Peter is a software developer specialising in financial markets with more than 20 years' experience in Sydney and London. He met the requirements for the E-3, but it was still an arduous process, with a lengthy round of telephone interviews with his future employers in Manhattan, reams of detailed paperwork for the immigration lawyers and a professional assessment by an academic working in the field.

Well, what's stopping you, Australia? See you for NYE in Times Square?