By Christopher Chwee
So you want to make it in America? International actors transitioning into the American market are faced with numerous obstacles on the way to becoming a working actor in the United States. Today we are going to face one of them; working permits (namely O1 Visa and Green Cards). Instead of talking about how to apply for the O1 Visa or Green Card, today I want to share the problems myself and other fellow actors have faced while working here. For information on how to apply please see the USCIS links below.
During my time at drama school I was fortunate to gain representation in the summer between first and second year, therefore needing an O1 Visa ASAP. Now some actors who study here for a given amount of time can receive the OPT (Optional Practical Training) which is a great way for them to build US credits then apply for the O1 or Green Card. I was unable to apply for the OPT as I was still in school, so I went directly to the O1. With the help of other international actors and a lot of research I received it in less than a month and since then have helped numerous actors with their O1 visa/Green Card applications and problems that have arisen while working here.
Ecstatic that I received the visa I began auditioning for primetime TV straight away but hit a wall during a callback for Law & Order. I was told by casting that NBC/Universal will not accept O1 Visa’s that have not been petitioned directly by the studio. This is now the case with Sony too. Every studio and network has a different take on this but talking with Tiffany Little Canfield from Telsey at a recent AGR workshop, she said that unless it’s for a series regular role they are having a very hard time placing people with O1 Visas on Network TV. Situations like this one have happened to numerous actors I know. But let this not discourage you, as studios such like CBS, Paramount and ABC Family will gladly review your paperwork before hiring you. Just be sure when petitioning for your O1, that you yourself or your lawyer apply for the O1 that is not specific to one project. Fortunately with the number of independent films, web series, and studios that will take the O1, foreign actors can build their resume in the United States then apply for the Green Card.
So why do some networks refuse the O1 Visa? If you were to leave your agent or manager (sponsor) while working on a project, the visa would now be void and there is no way for the studio or network to know whether the actor leaves their sponsor. This is why the networks or studios rather sponsor actors directly. The other problem is that on the O1 you are only able to work in the entertainment field as an actor so it can be difficult if you needed to work a side job.
Once you have the O1 and begin working professionally you will soon have the opportunity to join SAG-AFTRA. This is done by being hired under a SAG-AFTRA contract or working three days as a background actor under a SAG-AFTRA contract. Unfortunately to join AEA, the union covering stage actors only accepts actors with US citizenship or Resident Alien Status (Green Card). The O1 Visa is a great way to start your career in the United States and build credits but ultimately, as advised by all the castings directors I have worked with professionally and through The Actors Green Room, the Green Card is the way to go to avoid complications with studios, networks, and unions. With the amount of information available I have included a list of links below that I have found to be the most beneficial when applying for the O1 or Green Card and living as an actor in the United States. If you have any further questions please write or comment below and I will do my best to guide you to the right information or people. Carpe Diem!
O1 Visa Application
O1 Visa Requirements
Green Card Requirements
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