Column: 5 ways to cut down U.S. visa application time

Immigration lawyer Lorraine P. D'Alessio shares her top suggestions for efficiently applying for a visa to work stateside.

Lorraine D'Alessio headshotBy Lorraine P. D’Alessio 

Applying for a work visa in the United States is a notoriously time-consuming process. Believe it or not, a lot of this time isn’t spent waiting for USCIS to adjudicate your application — much of it is spent in the time it takes to put together the application. Why is this the case, if it’s mostly presenting documents and filling out forms? Applicants find that the document-collection process is much more detailed and time-consuming than they expect. Follow these universal steps before doing anything else, and you will be able to speed through your visa application process:

1.    Have your basic identification documents ready. This includes not just having a passport and birth certificate, but having it in a form that allows you to submit it immediately. If you’re working with an immigration attorney, they will almost invariably ask for digital versions of it for their use. Scan your entire passport into PDF files so you are not caught unprepared when someone asks for it.

2.    Line up your contacts. Depending on the visa, you may be asked to provide letters of support that explain your high standing in the industry, or your extraordinary ability, or your noteworthy accomplishments. This is one of the lengthiest endeavors, as there are so many moving parts to get a letter drafted, signed, and delivered. Remedy this by having industry contacts in mind, and making sure they are waiting in the wings. This can be as simple as confirming that they are willing to sign a letter. These contacts should be anyone with impressive credentials that can speak credibly as an expert on your field.

3.    Prepare a narrative of your career. Arts-based visas will almost always require arguing for your notoriety. You can better make this argument with an immigration attorney if you have a  clear picture of your career thus far: your accomplishments, awards and what generally separates you from the pack. This can be film festival admissions, or positive reviews, or a story from a famous director about the exemplary job you did on a particular shoot. Resist the temptation to downplay your work — in fact, dig into the details to find anything that can be praised as distinct and uncommon.

4.    Gather your press. If you have any press at all, even if you don’t think it’s notable enough, an immigration attorney will want to see it. This means interviews, reviews, blog posts, and more. Even if you are briefly mentioned, it bears examination. If you don’t have any explicit press mentions, perhaps there’s press for some of your most notable projects. For example, a cinematographer is unlikely to be interviewed in a magazine, but a magazine may review their film and praise the camera work.

5.    Prepare for the long term. If you have a job opportunity lined up as the basis of your employment-based visa, consider exploring your network to line up additional job opportunities. If you can combine multiple job offers into a single application, you will save time and money while extending the possible length of your work authorization.

The saying “time is money” is especially true in the film and television industry, and entire productions can be derailed or missed out on by visa woes. Don’t be caught unaware.