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I have an approved E-3 (non-immigrant) visa (basically an H-1B for Australians), but my partner (not married) was only granted a B1/B2 (tourist) visa.

Visa processing happens on entry to the USA, for us that will be at LAX.

How long should I allow between arrival time at LAX and the departure time of the next leg (via transit, luggage checked through, no security screen) out of LAX?

I have been told to allow 4 hours (and I've found a flight around then), but there's a flight departing 2.5 hours after arrival which would be better if it's enough time.

Does anyone have any experience or opinion on typical visa processing times?


More details requested from comments:

  • Arriving on Qantas Melbourne->LA direct
  • Domestic legs LA->Seattle (both earlier and later options) Alaskan Airlines
  • Flights booked one one ticket, so luggage will be checked all the way through and we'll be in transit lounge LA
  • All visas in passports, approved, stamped, etc
  • No "brown envelope visa pack"
  • All visas have expiry dates of 2 years from entry, but I was advised by the embassy here that my wife will (almost certainly) be given at least 6 months initially, but we can ask for 1 year and there's a good chance that will be granted
  • There are also 2 small kids involved - they both have E-3Ds (E-3 dependents) also in passports, approved and stamped
  • @choster arriving Qantas then Alaskan (as a Qantas flight #) for both options. Although all visas are approved at embassy here, I have be given SSN and whole works. – Bohemian Apr 15 '16 at 2:35
  • @Bohemian, you won't get a SSN from the CBP, you'll visit an SSA office for that. Immigrant visa holders on their first entry (with the brown envelope visa pack) get sent to secondary inspection and can spend a couple of hours, but I think non-immigrant visa holders on their first entry just get processed at the primary inspection desk like they will at every other entry(?). What "whole works" are you expecting? – Dennis Apr 15 '16 at 3:04
  • @choster You can't use the kiosks for an entry on a work visa. Right now it's VWP, and some airports are trialing them with B1/B2 visa holders, but I don't think that's at LAX yet. – Michael Hampton Apr 15 '16 at 3:17
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    @Dennis Thanks for responding. I've added lots more detail into the question – Bohemian Apr 15 '16 at 3:39
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    I don't think your visas' expiration dates are reckoned "from entry"; visas have an absolute expiration date. This date is the last day you can use the visa to enter the United States. It had nothing to do with when you must leave. Despite all the talk about people "overstaying their visas," it is not necessary for your visa to remain valid while you are in the US. Rather, you must abide by the date given to you by the border officer when you enter, and you must maintain your E-3 status (though you can apply to extend stay or change status). – phoog Apr 15 '16 at 11:02
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I have arrived in LAX with an E3 visa, a wife and two children (who all had E3-D visas) before. And it all depends!

If you are lucky, and you get to immigration and there is no queue, then you will need 5-7 minutes to get through your immigration officer.

The thing is, if you're flying Qantas, then they fly A380's into LAX, often early in the morning. Which means there are a lot of people to get through immigration. And if you're unlucky enough to land at the same time as another A380? Well.

For what it's worth, the average time for me to:

  1. Land at LAX
  2. Get through immigration
  3. Get luggage
  4. Get through Customs
  5. Re-check baggage
  6. Get through TSA security
  7. Re-board my plane

With an E3 visa and dependents is around 2 hours. The worst I had is 3.5 hours, but that was with a long immigration queue and a mixup with the boarding passes for my next leg.

I would say that 2 hours is pushing your luck. I once took QF12, which is SYD > NYC with immigration through LAX and I heard my name being called as I ran down the terminal to get to the second leg of the flight (sorry, I was that guy. But it was't my fault, I got "randomly selected" for having all my shit inspected at TSA).

However, the best transit time I've ever had was 30 minutes. It was almost too good to be true. First off the plane, first through immigration, first through customs, empty TSA queue. I spent more time walking between things at LAX than I spent in queues. However this is exceptionally rare.

  • As per my question, I don't have to do points 3-6 of your list. All luggage will be checked all the way through to the final destination and we'll be in the transit area, so we we'll already be through security. The question is just about point 2 of your list. – Bohemian Apr 15 '16 at 14:44
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    @Bohemian are you sure about that? You generally need to go through immigration and customs at your first US port, which would be LAX. They might be checked through, but you still need to collect them, go through customs, and re-check them. After all, your second leg is a domestic flight, and won't have customs controls at the other end. – Mark Henderson Apr 15 '16 at 14:46
  • @Bohemian, for immigration you need to fill out the paper customs form and stand in the long queue with all the other visa holders (i.e. you can't use the machines), but you are unlikely to spend more than a few minutes with the immigration officer even with 4 of you. You will collect your luggage, and if you have a lot of it for the move you could conceivably draw some attention at customs (i.e. point 4); after customs there's a desk to give the luggage back for the onward flight. I think your problem won't be immigration but only that transits from overseas at LAX can suck for everyone. – Dennis Apr 15 '16 at 16:30
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    @Bohemian Just throwing this out there: As someone who moved to the US on an E3 visa last year, if you have anything you wanna ask or get advice/info about, shoot me an email, on my first initial, full last name, at stackoverflow.com – Mark Henderson Apr 16 '16 at 2:12
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    Update: I have just completed my 2nd E3 visa entry with wife + 2 kids. Both times were almost identical for speed and efficiency: about 5 minutes tops at immigration. Make sure you mention to the first staff member helping to organise queues that you're an E3. Both times as soon as I did that I jumped the rest of the queue (100's of people). It seems work visa get priority over visitors visas. – Bohemian Nov 30 '17 at 17:26

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