Column: Planning work visas around fluctuating currency

Immigration lawyer Lorraine P. D'Alessio on why it's wise to have the flexibility to work in the U.S. at a moment's notice, even when the Canadian industry is booming.

Lorraine D'Alessio headshot

By Lorraine P. D’Alessio

When the Canadian dollar is weak against the U.S. dollar, Canadian talent agency Webster Talent Management always sees a spike in production “and this year is no exception,” says founder Andrew Webster. “Between the exchange rate, tax incentives and the quality of the local crews and cast, there is no better place to shoot right now.”

The value of the Canadian dollar relative to the American dollar has long been a driver of the Canadian television industry. But for actors, directors, film makers, and crew members of all sorts that work in both countries, it can lead to some hesitation about when it’s wise to seek work authorization.  If it’s common knowledge that a weaker Canadian dollar leads to more American productions making the trip north, especially during pilot season, does one even need to worry about work visas? Isn’t all the work coming to your doorstep?

Yes and no. While the Canadian television industry has been booming for years, it’s important for professionals to have room to diversify their opportunities. Relocation to Hollywood may not be as necessary as it was 10 or 20 years ago, but non-immigrant visas ensure that such a move is in your back pocket.

Everyone in show business is prepared for the temporary and fleeting nature of work; productions wrap up, shows are cancelled or pilots are never picked up. Cast and crew prepare for this, and the cyclical boom and bust of American productions setting up shop in Toronto is the same way. Preparing for the eventual bust means spreading out into the U.S., whether it’s the traditional core of Los Angeles or the blossoming industries in cities like Atlanta.

In the case of cross-border productions, having the flexibility to work in the States at a moment’s notice is even more valuable. David Hackl, a Canadian director and production designer that has worked on the Saw films, says they’re necessary avenues for growing a young professional’s network.

“Cross border productions are a great opportunity to make connections to people who normally work in the U.S. and they often have the added benefit of being part of the ‘studios’ which we just don’t have in Canada,” says Hackl. “It’s a great way to make contacts that you can use down the road.”

Work visas are often handled by studios if they cast a foreign national, although American managers are capable of petitioning as an employer with other work offers in place. Ultimately, the question of whether to spend pilot season in Toronto or Los Angeles is answered case by case. But even for young Canadian crews early on in their career, who typically feast on the glut of pilots migrating north, work visas can provide more bites at the apple.