Immigration Tips for Foreign Actors

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Written by Sasha Sinnott, Esq.

Hollywood is the epicenter of the entertainment industry.  Actors from around the world hope to relocate to the United States so that they can jump-start their careers.  However, many foreign actors do not sufficiently prepare themselves for the immigration process itself.  There are visa and green card options for entertainers who wish to work and live in the United States but the process must be handled with care so that potential issues can be avoided before they become an impediment to immigration. 

As an immigration attorney who works with actors and entertainers, I deal with entertainment professionals at all stages of the immigration process.  Actors will have different immigration options available to them depending on whether they are already in the United States and their level of experience in the entertainment field.

Experienced actors and entertainment professional may have more options than they realize.  For instance, their talent manager can sponsor them for an O-1 visa based on their already existing extraordinary ability.  This can be especially beneficial as actors who are sponsored by their talent managers on an O-1 status can legally work for more than one US employer.  It is also possible for actors to qualify for visas based on a specific job offer (this may be an O or P visa).  This will not require as robust of a resume but may limit the actor’s ability to take on additional work while in the US on that specific visa.  

Less experienced actors will have to consider more creative solutions while they build up employment opportunities and their resumes.  One option is for aspiring actors to travel to the United States to attend acting school under an F1 visa status.  Once here, they can take proactive steps to enhance their resumes and credentials so that they will have increased chances of getting jobs and later qualifying for temporary visas or their green card. 

Regardless of where you currently are in the immigration process there are many steps you can take to enhance your chances of qualifying for an O-1 visa or your green card under the EB-1 category.  It is never too early to get started and the more prepared you are the easier the transition to the United States will be.

Here is a list of proactive steps you can take to greatly increase your chances of obtaining a temporary visa or your green card: 

1)     Identify a qualified and reputable immigration attorney early on.  The success of your visa application will greatly depend on the skill of your attorney, the amount of effort they put into the preparation of your application, and whether they have taken the time to truly learn about your field of specialty.  A reliable attorney will share information with you openly and will want to know the particulars of your situation.  They will advise you on how to qualify for your visa in an ethical manner and will try to ensure that you are a good candidate for a particular visa before signing you up for their services.   Be aware that “immigration consultants” are not attorneys and are not legally permitted to handle your immigration case. 

2)     Actively seek out resume building activitiesYour reputation as an actor will be a vital component of your visa application. For example, the EB-1 green card category requires evidence that an artist or actor has been asked to judge the work of others, either individually or on a panel.  This is an area where an actor can be proactive. For example, you may consider contacting arts departments at schools and offering to judge any competitions they are holding.  

3)     Act as your own PR manager. Some artist visa categories require evidence of published materials about the performer in major newspapers or trade magazines.  This is something that can happen organically in an actor’s career, where newspapers independently write about the actor.  However, actors can also take it upon themselves to contact major media and trade magazines promoting themselves as a story.  For example, we have heard that calling major media in your home country and telling them about your career can be effective.

4)     Develop and maintain relationships with industry leaders. Many artist visa categories will require recommendation letters from known experts in your field.  Because of this it is imperative that you build your contact base and stay on good terms with possible references.  Your recommenders can be directors, actors, politicians, other persons of note, or experts in your field.  A reputable attorney will insist that they assist and advise your recommenders with the drafting of the letters so that they meet the standards expected by US Citizenship and Immigration Services. 

5)     Stay on top of your immigration status.  The most damaging thing an actor can do from an immigration perspective is violate the terms of their stay in the US by overstaying the allotted time frame or engaging in activities that are not permitted under their status.  It is far better to return to your home country temporarily and reenter legally than to get on the bad side of US Citizenship and Immigration Services.  If in doubt about the terms of your stay in the US seek advice from a qualified immigration attorney.  You may have more options than you think. 

It is never too early to contact a lawyer for information about your options.  Some law firms provide free consultations, including our firm.  Also, there are free immigration seminars held frequently in the U.S. by immigration attorneys.  Our firm is holding a free immigration seminar this Sunday, February 3, 2013 for artists and entertainers. Please see the following link for more information: http://www.sinnottlawgroup.com/events/index.html


Sasha Sinnott
is an immigration attorney and the owner of Sinnott Law Group. A large part of her practice is dedicated to meeting the immigration needs of actors, artists, and other entertainment professionals. The attorneys at Sinnott Law Group are experienced in the preparation of O-1 and EB-1 applications and offer free consultations to prospective clients. Sasha is a member of the State Bar of California as well as the bar associations of Los Angeles and Orange County. She received her J.D. from University of Washington and her B.A. in political science from Columbia University. 

 Follow Sinnott Law Group on Twitter @SinnottLawGroup check out their website at www.sinnottlawgroup.com

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