Pilot and Staffing Season 101
by Jordana Schwartz-Matricardi
Pilot season and staffing season are now upon us! Excitement and opportunity is in the air. For those working within television, pilot and staffing season represents the potential for new roles or projects, and with them, new heights to reach within the entertainment industry. But for foreign artists, including production staff, hoping to stake a claim on a budding or returning television production, the need to secure proper immigration plans is an absolute must prior to starting a job.
Enter the O-1B visa, the most popular visa option for those working within the film and television industry. To earn the O-1B visa, applicants must satisfy a minimum number of requirements and criteria outlined by United States Customs and Immigration Services (USCIS). The visa allows foreign artists to work on a temporary basis for up to three years in the United States, and is renewable on an indefinite basis.
To better prepare for pilot and staffing season, we recommend a few key tips to make your visa pathway as stress-free as possible.
Give Yourself Time
It takes approximately two months to prepare and file your O-1B visa petition, and approximately fifteen days to eight weeks for USCIS to process it (depending on whether you file regular or expedited processing). The last thing you want to do is get booked for a role or production without having your O-1B visa in hand. You need to make sure that you have given yourself plenty of time for the process. An expedited option, known as Premium Processing, provides a faster guaranteed processing time of fifteen calendar days for your petition to be reviewed and processed by USCIS. While this option guarantees a faster turnaround, you also need to be cognizant that your case takes time to be prepared by an attorney, as many factors, ranging from your previous credits to a record of success, need to be considered and provided in an O-1B petition.
Prepare Required Documentation Before Consulting an Attorney
The more prepared and organized you are prior to meeting with an attorney, the faster the process will be. It is important to have your resume updated with every project you have been a part of, and to include your role on that project. You should also note the significance of your role, and indicate whether it was prominent or supporting. It is also vital to include the production company or notable producers or individuals involved in each production, as this information will be of use when your attorney determines the key productions to highlight in your O1-B petition.
Update Your IMDB Profile
IMDB is the one-stop shop for film and television professionals to get an idea of your career achievements, and the specific roles you have previously played. It is also a key resource used by your attorney to help determine which distinguished projects should be highlighted in your O-1B visa petition. An updated IMDB page will make it easier for your attorney to decide which television or film projects have most benefitted from your leading or supporting roles.
Moreover, IMDB is the first resource USCIS typically uses to confirm your credits as an artist. If your IMDB page does not comprehensively reflect your career credits, as well as the breadth of your performances, you run the risk of an immigration officer doubting the significance or value of your work described in the O-1B visa petition.
Consider Your Professional Contacts
Prepare a list of professional contacts you have worked with that may sign a letter of recommendation attesting to your achievements as an extraordinary artist. Distinguished individuals who are well known and established within your industry are a plus, as well as artists that have a track record of success within your field. These individuals can be fellow performers, directors, producers, and executives from renowned production or distribution companies that have experience working with you. Having hands on experience working with these individuals is ideal, as their perspective as established names within the industry that can attest to your specific talents will be crucial to obtaining your O-1B visa.
It is best not to begin writing these recommendation letters prior to starting your O-1B visa case, as your attorney may have specific ideas for how each letter should be approached and crafted.
Collect Your Press Clippings
Providing evidence of of your roles and career achievements in the form of press articles, reviews, or online media is a major aspect that your O-1B visa petition will greatly benefit from. Whether it’s in the form of newspaper clippings, film reviews, online articles, or radio or television interviews, it is crucial that you provide evidence that you have earned sustained national or international recognition for your roles. The more press you have, the better.
Save Those Contracts, Pay Stubs and Invoices
An important criteria for the O-1B visa is evidence of high salary or compensation for your past work. Be sure to collect any proof of payments you have received for your performances and projects, contracts you have signed with past employers, invoices evidencing the high rate of pay you have earned, or any other documentation showing that you have received high remuneration for your leading or supporting efforts.
The O-1B visa process can be a demanding one, but with the right attorney, there’s no need to panic! Have any questions? Feel free to reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org to schedule a consultation to get started on your path towards the O-1B visa.