This information has been compiled for the convenience of non-U.S. based individuals and production companies wishing to shoot a film or video project in New York City. When applying for a U.S. nonimmigrant visa, there are two government agencies which you will work with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) and the U.S. Department of State.
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS)
U.S. Department of State
What does the Mayor’s Office of Film, Theatre and Broadcasting offer to international production companies?
We offer permits, free police assistance and free public locations. Our permit coordinators will work with you to ensure that your foreign insurance carrier meets our requirements, that your permits are available to you when you need them, and that even though you may not be here in town, that you have the same access to city locations and services that we offer all filmmakers. Our commitment to serving you-our customers and guests-with all the benefits that the New York City production community and the city has to offer is a top priority. Click here to learn more about the permitting process and insurance requirements. We suggest you review this material and contact us at least one month in advance of your trip to ensure you’re your experience is as hassle-free and pleasant as possible.
Step One: Petition for Worker Status
About three or four months prior to your trip, you must obtain and file Form I-129 Petition for Nonimmigrant Worker with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service. In order for a production company’s employees to be granted nonimmigrant worker status, the production company or producer must file this form and submit a nonrefundable application fee for each person entering the country.
As part of the petitioning process, the USCIS requires a review by the entertainment trade union which represents your position here in the U.S. (e.g. if you are a Writer, you must consult the Writers Guild of America). While the ultimate decision lies with the USCIS, vetting by the Unions and Guilds is a required part of the application process and aids the USCIS in determining the eligibility and validity of petitioners. The government does not require that you utilize organized labor as a condition of visa approval.
Once approved, the employer or agent is sent a notice of approval, Form I-797. Save this form for the visa application process.
Step Two: Apply to the U.S. Department of State for Temporary Worker Visa
Applicants for temporary work visas should apply at the American Embassy or Consulate Office in the region of their place of permanent residence.
Each applicant for a temporary worker visa must pay a nonrefundable application fee and submit and/or present:
- Form I-797 – Notice of Approval, sent by USCIS.
- Immigrant Visa Application Form DS-156 completed in English and signed.
- Supplemental Nonimmigrant Visa Application, Form DS-157.
- Valid passport for travel to the U.S. with a validity date at least six months beyond the applicant’s intended period of stay.
- One (1) 2×2 inch photograph.
- Form DS-158: Contact Information and Work History may also be required. Ask about this when setting up your consular appointment.
- Applicants may also need to show proof of binding ties to a residence outside the United States which they have no intention of abandoning. Your regional U.S. consular office will be able to let you know when you make your appointment.
Step Three: Bringing Equipment into the U.S.
There are two ways to bring equipment into the United States:
ATA Carnet – Essentially a passport for your equipment. Over 75 countries are part of the Carnet agreement, which will save you time in entering and exiting the U.S. Upon entry you will need to leave a deposit against the value of the equipment, which is refunded when you leave. For more information and a list of ATA Carnet signatory countries, visit the United States Council for International Business website www.uscib.org. Once you have determined that your country is an ATA Carnet agreement country, you will need to get in touch with the National Guaranteeing Association in your country of origin. Do not apply for a carnet in the U.S.
Temporary Importation Entry (T.I.E.) – For productions coming from non-ATA Carnet countries, you will need to hire a U.S. Customs Broker, who is licensed by the U.S Department of the Treasury, to put together a Temporary Importation Entry package. Customs Brokers are the only people who can do this.
Every point of entry is managed by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the Department of Homeland Security and has an entry point office. The Field Operations Office for all New York City area entry points can be contacted at (646) 733-3100 and is open from 8:00 AM to 4:30 PM EST. Regardless of whether you bring equipment in under ATA Carnet or T.I.E., all entry points will inspect and verify that the equipment is safe by x-ray, personal inspection and other means. Notify them ahead of time when you will be arriving by calling the field office at (646) 733-3100. Be prepared with an inventory list of the equipment you are bringing into the country. Be patient: thorough inspection is compulsory and can take some time. Your cooperation is required and patience is appreciated.
Hiring an immigration lawyer can help you to manage the process. An attorney can simplify the process and can decrease the chance of visa/entry denial and other complications. These professionals know the process back to front and can make filing much easier, especially when there are many people applying for visas.
Setting up a U.S. production company can also make the process easier, as business transfer visas can be easier to obtain than other types of visas. This option may not be beneficial to all productions. Depending on how much production you do in New York City or the United States, it could be a viable option.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: If I have questions regarding the petitioning process, who can I call for clarification?
A: Questions about petitioning procedures, qualifications for various classifications, and conditions and limitations on employment should be made by the prospective employer or agent in the United States to the nearest USCIS office.
Q: If I have questions about the visa application process, who can I call for clarification?
A: Questions regarding the visa application process should be made to the American Consular Office in the applicant’s country of origin or the office which serves the region.
Q: Does a visa guarantee entry to the United States?
A: Applicants should be aware that a visa does not guarantee entry. The Directorate of Border and Transportation Security in the Department of Homeland Security has the authority to deny admission for any reason.
Q: How long is a temporary work visa valid?
A: The period for which the bearer of a temporary work visa is authorized to remain in the United States is determined by the Directorate of Border and Transportation Security at the port of entry. Consular officials cannot make this determination at the time of application.
b>Q: Where is the length of visa validity noted?
A: The length of validity of the visa may vary. At the point of entry, Form I-94, Record of Arrival & Departure, will be given to you and will note the length of stay allowed.
Q: Can I stay in the country past the date of my I-94 validity?
A: Those temporary workers who wish to stay beyond the time indicated on their Form I-94 must contact the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services to request Form I-539, Application to Extend Status. The fee for this application is $140 US. The decision to grant or deny a request for extension of stay is made solely by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services.
Q: Can I bring my spouse and children into the United States on a temporary non-immigrant visa?
A: The spouse and unmarried, minor children of an applicant under any of the classifications listed must also be classified as non-immigrants in order to accompany or join the principal applicant. The principal applicant must be able to show that he or she will be able to support his or her family in the United States.
Types of Visas
O-1 – for Artists of Extraordinary Achievement (actors, directors, producers, other singular professionals known for their craft). Requirements:
- Lead or starring role in distinguished production
- National or international achievement recognition
- Distinguished reputation of production
- Record of significant commercial success or acclaim.
- Recognition by critics, organizations, government, agencies and experts
- High salary compared to others in field
O-2 – Supporting cast and crew (actors, Assistant Directors, crew who are essential or have been attached to O-1 talent)
- Pre-existing, long standing working relationship with O-1
- Have engaged in significant work on production such that participation will be essential to production.
B-1 – Business Visitor/consultant visas
L-1 and E Visas – International Transfers for production companies with offices in the US
P-1 classification applies to individual or team athletes, or members of an entertainment group that are internationally recognized (25,000);
P-2 classification applies to artists or entertainers who will perform under a reciprocal exchange program;
P-3 classification applies to artists or entertainers who perform under a program that is culturally unique (same as P-1); and
P-4 classification for the spouse and children of P1, P-2, and P-3 visa holders