Thursday, October 8, 2009

O1 VISAS-- possible problems and CSA response

On Wed, 14 October, I am organizing a casting symposium on the subject of:
sponsored by Spotlight and The London Film Festival

Catherine Shoard from the Guardian is moderating, and the panelists are:
Duane Clarke, Jeremy Conway, Priscilla John, Pippa Harrison and Jeremy Zimerman.

The event is sold out and already people have been writing in to ask if there will be a transcript available. The answer is YES, there will eventually. I also want to post some information about O1 Visas in advance.

The O1 Visa is what European actors need as a first step to working as an artist in the USA. There is information on it in my book, Secrets from the Casting Couch, or you an consult: Please note that this website is not a government organization; they are private. I have not researched them, so I can't recommend them, but I will look into some recommendations. If anyone recommends a particular company, please let me know.

It has, however recently been called to my attention that there are limitations involved with the O1. Amy Mathieson, a British actor, who is now living and working in LA, wrote me this letter (click here). In this letter she starts by telling some horror stories about British actors who were actually cast, but then not allowed to work on their Visas. She then proceeds with some more positive news on the same subject and makes suggestions to other British actors.

I consulted C.S.A. (Casting Society of America) members to find out what their take on it was

Dear Casting Directors,

I will sit on a panel in London soon that will discuss the issue of British actors wanting to work in the US. I understand from some British actors that the O1 Visa is no longer accepted as a work permit by the big studios and networks in the US, and that the Green Card is required. Is this truly the case? Are O1 visas being turned down? Please if you have a moment, share your comments on this.

- Nancy Bishop

and here is the response:

Most Studios still do in my experience however NBC/Universal will not accept 01 Visa's that have not been specifically applied for by the studio. 99.9 percent of the time this is not the case. I was recently unable to hire an actor on "Law & Order: SVU" who was a series regular on "24" and "Califorication" for this very reason.

-Jonathan Strauss

Yes, unfortunately it is true. Sony will no longer allow us to hire actors with O1 Visas - they must have a Green Card.

- Camille St. Cry

I imagine every studio has a different view on this. We do mostly television and hire foreign actors all the time. At CBS-Paramount, they have to approve an O1 Visa, by reviewing all the paperwork that was submitted along with the application. We've had very few problems, usually fixable by resubmitting the paperwork with broader language.

So long as the manager-sponsored O1 Visa isn't project specific and allows the artist to work on a broad range of projects, it's usually fine.

Since it may take a couple days to get approval, we've actually gotten to the point where we will preemptively have the studio review the paperwork as we're setting up someone for producers.

Feel free to email or call with any questions. Hope this helps.


Jason Kennedy

I also spoke with MEG LIBERMAN (who works for CBS) on the phone and she gave a more complicated response:

Basically if an actor is hired by one production company to work on a particular production, that Visa might not extend to another production company. The best thing to do is get a "Blanket O1" that is not specific to any one project. The language on the underlying paperwork has to be as broad as possible.

In some cases Meg has had trouble hiring foreign actors on episodic work. Pilots can be easier since they have 21 days to petition for a visa. NBC does not accept the O1 because it's owned by General Electric.

Meg hired one actor on "Medium" for NBC (but production company was CBS studios) then hired the same actor on "Las Vegas" which used a different production company, which didn't accept the Visa. So after shooting a few scenes realized that she had to fire him and it cost the production $250,000 to re-shoot.

Ultimately the Green Card is the best thing to get.


I want to emphasize that I am no expert on these matters and that a a good immigration lawyer is required for anyone seeking to work in the US.



Lennart Falk said...

Hi, will you post the list of immigration lawyers that the girl talks about in her letter on your blog or can you email me her contact info and I will ask her myself?

Lennart -


thanks for providing a great resource. your site is one of the best, and i will definitley refer it to my site visitors.


Anonymous said...

This is potentially worrying for actors like myself who have spent £000s on legal fees and are now in LA working on a 3 year O1 visa.

BUT, wouldn't the studios be in breach of the relevant USA anti-discrimination law which states as follows?:

"It is illegal to discriminate against any individual (other than an alien not authorized to work in the United States) in hiring, discharging, or recruiting or referring for a fee because of that individual's national origin or citizenship status. It is illegal to discriminate against work-authorized individuals. Employers CANNOT specify which document(s) they will accept from an employee. ... For more information, call the Office of Special Counsel for Immigration Related Unfair Employment Practices at 1-800-255-8155."

Clearly, those here on an O1 ARE 'work authorized individuals', and according to that law, Studios "CANNOT" specify that they will only accept a Green Card, nor can they refuse a valid O1. So what to do?

In my case the visa is broad, applies to a few prodcos, and the manager-sponsor's letter within the papers mentions there will be unnamed 'additional future engagements'. But still I am slightly concerned that all the time, money, and heartache some of us have expended getting to this point, leaving family behind as well, may all be for nothing if/when we land that key role, only to have the studio discriminate against us.

I'd be interested in any comments, about this comment.

Anonymous said...

Hi Nancy...

So glad that I found this article and the attached letter... I've been having an absolute nightmare over the past 12 months out here in Los Angeles. I'm a British Actor, here on a 3 year working VISA ( now 2 years in ) and I've been hired for 5 jobs this year on really amazing projects ( 2 huge features and 3 episodics ), only to be told shortly before filming is to begin that my O1 VISA is no longer accepted. It's really soul destroying. It's all the more frustrating because we've been cleared to work by USA immigration already during the O1 VISA process, and now someone in an office somewhere that we never get the chance to meet is saying, "actually no, you can't work"... Utterly devastating. It's a catch 22, because in order to get the Green Card, you have to prove that you're working, but we're not able to work... I've spoken to many foreign actors over the past few months, and it's become totally clear that the O1 VISA is bordering on useless...

Anonymous said...

I suggest EVERYONE (yes, you) concerned about this petition the US DOJ to convey your opinion that major production companies and studios are illegally discriminating against work authorized individuals, and clearly breaking the law.

T: +1-800-237-2515

Anonymous said...

Hi, thanks for the info. Is it possible to get the O1 visa without paying legal fees? I'm at full-time drama school in England and when I was in LA I met a Manager who is willing to sponsor me for my visa but firstly I haven't been in any national tv shows or newspapers etc, and secondly I really can't afford a lawyer on top of drama school fees. Is it a necessity to get a lawyer?

Anonymous said...

The other poster is right, these companies ARE breaking the law. See here and petition the DOJ to take action against them:

buyer said...

FWIW I'm a former civil liberties columnist.

You need to read the law a bit before becoming "up in arms". I've read a bit of the law recently, and it appears that you are reading the law from the I-9 form, but not looking at a basic requirement of O-1 visa holders.

From the DHS:


If an O-1 alien in the US seeks to change employers, the new employer must file a new petition and request an extension of the alien’s stay with the Service Center having jurisdiction over the new place
of employment.

and also:

An alien will not be granted O-1 classification to freelance in the US.

Get it? an O-1 is NOT carte blanche to work wherever, and it is NOT a free pass or universal employment authorization. it may be true that scam artist immigration service companies have painted it as such, but it's clear from reading the qualifications and restrictions that it is not.



Anonymous said...

I'm afraid that as a Brit that's recently relocated to LA I can confirm that the worst is true. The industry here has become very protectionist of late and the O-1 visa is not the ticket it once was. Many production companies are indeed finding ways to refuse to hire O-1 holders and it doesn't help that the validity of the so-called 'blanket visa' is now being challenged (using Buyer's interpretation of the rules, even though this has never previously been a problem). Sadly, even many agents and managers here are not aware of how difficult things are getting, so that an offer of representation made in good faith may not in fact be worth very much.

Worse still, SAG has really clamped down on the practice of 'Taft Hartley'-ing actors (i.e. allowing non-union actors to join SAG if a studio petitions them as a special case), while Central (i.e. background) Casting will no longer hire actors with sponsors. Thus two of the most common ways of getting a SAG card have now pretty well disappeared, and without a SAG card, the opportunities to make real money are limited. (And even with a SAG card, the studios can still consider your O-1 'not legal').

Therefore I think that prospective actors need to think very carefully before making the jump over here. It's much more expensive to pursue your career in this town and while I myself am getting good feedback from top coaches and casting directors, I'm starting to believe that I may be going up a blind alley.

For all that, LA's a great experience. Just be aware that it's getting tougher all the time.

Anonymous said...

Its not freelancing if your "Petitioner" is the one find worka and negotiating deals.
This is all quite ridiculous of the Networks and Production companies.

I honestly believe it has to do with them only wanting to offer work to their RESIDENTS rather than foreigners.

I've heard lots of people being successful at finding work under the O-1.
Its just part of the industry, some land jobs and others dont.
A greencard is not the golden ticket to landing a job. How many US Permanent Residents are currently out of work????

If they want you to be in the production, they will, the O Visa has nothing to do with it.

This is the Entertainment Industry, some make it, some dont.

All the best,