Column: Taking your show on the road

Immigration lawyer Lorraine P. D'Alessio on how Canadian productions can get proper authorization to work in the U.S. - and why they really need it.

Lorraine D'Alessio headshotBy Lorraine P. D’Alessio

Road shows – productions that travel across the U.S. and Canada showcasing different locales – portray travelling as seamless and easy. Shows on channels like Discovery and Food Network send hosts across the U.S. and Canada, turning a spotlight on everything from local restaurants to storage container facilities. When Canadian shows look to expand their scope in future seasons, America is an obvious move. But there are a lot of misunderstandings about the visa situation for travelling shows.

It may be tempting to carry on a production on something like a tourist visa, but it’s not advisable. The best reason to get proper work authorization is that productions have been stopped at border crossings before. It should be remembered that Customs & Border Patrol is essentially a police force; they’re not the same people that read immigration petitions and are not necessarily trained in the complexities and nuances of immigration law. They will, however, recognize visas and what clearances they allow.

There’s more than one way to get proper work authorization. Most important is that the petitioner is an American entity. Sometimes that means engaging in a co-production deal, other times it means involving American management. Either way, the American company would provide the offer of work for a key crew member, such as a director. The director serves as the principal applicant in an O-1 visa petition, while the rest of the crew could apply as derivative applicants under O-2 status, assuming the director and crew have at least one year of experience together. The O-1 beneficiary should be the member of the crew with the strongest case; someone with recognizable credits, decent awards or even press. The O-2 beneficiaries, who can be anyone from second unit directors to audio engineers, are held to a lower standard. They merely need to be shown to be essential to the O-1 candidate’s work, which can be reasonably argued by stressing the importance of continuity: only this support crew understands the procedures of this particular production, and this should be evidenced by at least a season of work together.

This need for certainty in work authorization can go for pretty much all manner of travelling show, whether it’s a travelling circus or a professional wrestling tour. When planning this excursion, factor in the processing time of petitioning for work visas. Depending on your cooperation and efficiency in turning in requested documents, you should allow an added two or even three months just for the petition process. This time can be severely compacted by paying an extra USD$1,225 for premium processing, which guarantees a reply within 15 days.

There are more reasons to get a visa when filming in the U.S. than not. It has the added bonus of setting your mind at ease for years — the O-1 visa beneficiary in particular can be covered for three full years. In the end, safe is better than sorry if an entire season of television is on the line.