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I work for a small video production company based in Australia. We shoot a lot of travel-based content and sometimes the story takes us to the USA. There seems to be a grey area with the visa scenario that I have never been able to get a straight answer on.

If the work is for another country/region and you are being paid by that country into a bank account of that country, what type of visa do you need to be on?

Thank you.

  • It depends on the work. In this case, it sounds like an I visa might be indicated – phoog Jul 5 '18 at 6:45
  • Thanks for the reply. I had previously also thought that this might be the case but the type of content and filming is not the same as for that visa. It seems to be specifically for News and Journalistic activities? This is from the I visa criteria: """Freelance journalists will only be considered for an I visa if all of the following criteria are met. The journalist must: Hold a credential issued by a professional journalistic organization Be under contract to a media organization Disseminate information or news not primarily intended for commercial entertainment or advertising""" – Rob Jul 5 '18 at 6:52
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    A question would be if you're working to produce film that is intended to "disseminate information, news, or is educational in nature." If you're not sure whether that's the case for your projects, that's probably a question for an immigration lawyer who works in the entertainment industry, who can look at what you're doing specifically and give advice. – Zach Lipton Jul 5 '18 at 7:02
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    @Rob but you're not a freelance journalist, are you? – phoog Jul 5 '18 at 8:28
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    Maybe you can ask the US embassy which type of visa you need? – Aganju Jul 5 '18 at 14:57
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You are not allowed to do film production work as a visitor on the Visa Waiver Program. You should determine whether you're qualified for an I visa: Visas for Members of the Foreign Media, Press, and Radio. These visas are for:

An employee of foreign information media or employee of an independent production company having a credential issued by another country’s professional journalistic association engaged in filming a news event or documentary.

A member of the foreign media engaged in the production or distribution of film, if the material being filmed will be used to disseminate information, news, or is educational in nature. The primary source and distribution of funding must be outside the United States.

A journalist working under contract with a credential issued by another country’s professional journalistic association, if working on a product to disseminate information or news that is not primarily intended for commercial entertainment or advertising.

A foreign journalist travelling to the United States to report on U.S. events solely for a foreign audience, if the journalist works for an overseas media outlet having its home office in a foreign country.

An accredited representative of a tourist bureau, controlled, operated, or subsidized in whole or in part by a foreign government, who engages primarily in disseminating factual tourist information about that country, and who is not entitled to receive an A-2 visa as a foreign government official or employee.

An employee of an organization that distributes technical industrial information who will work in the U.S. office of that organization.

As you can see, these visas are appropriate for news and informational programs, as opposed to programming that is primarily for commercial or entertainment purposes. Obtaining O visas for key personnel for entertainment projects is a specialized topic and should be done by US-based immigration lawyers who specialize in working with the entertainment industry.

  • I unfortunatly feel I sit in between these 2 Visa requirements. I visa for another Specific field in our industry, O visa seems to be targeted at Actors/director who intend to do Long periods of significant work in the US. A shoot I would go on is usually very simple, low key and only a couple of days. It is with minimal equipment and crew. Do you think there might be another option, say for example the Tourist?business waiver as I would be specifically doing work for an Australian company for work to be released in Australia and any pay from the work is paid into my Australian Bank account? – Rob Jul 5 '18 at 7:02
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Legally speaking, if you're doing any kind of "work" in the US, meaning pretty much anything that doesn't involve sitting around in meeting rooms, you're supposed to get a nonimmigrant work visa. This is the case regardless of who is paying you, and even if you aren't being paid at all (eg. internships). And as you've found out, getting one of these involves a world of pain.

All that said, practically speaking, as long as you keep your trips pretty short, odds are very high you'll be fine with a regular ESTA or B1/2 visa, just state your itinerary and that you're going there to travel, see the sights, etc. If quizzed about your video gear (highly unlikely, because the people quizzing you at immigration won't know about it!), state that you're a keen photo/videographer. All of this is perfectly true, and things may only get sticky if you're asked who is paying for all this and they don't take "I am" as an answer.

Yes, there is a small chance you'll run into trouble, be denied entry and need to apply for visas whenever you go to the US. However, a travel company I used for also did lots of video production in the US, and AFAIK they both used VWP/B1/B2 and never had any issues. YMMV.

  • This recommends in core illegal activity. – Aganju Jul 5 '18 at 14:56
  • @Aganju No, it lays out the OP's options, I'm not recommending one or the other. – lambshaanxy Jul 5 '18 at 15:26
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    Actually a B-1 visa can cover a lot of activities well beyond sitting in a meeting room, including a still photographer, a working artist, the personal employee of a non-immigrant and someone doing work of a nature that would qualify for an H-1B if the employer were American. Google "9 FAM 41.31 Notes", or "B-1 in lieu of H-1B" for the last. Some of these do require applying for an actual, annotated B-1 visa, however, and these are policy so what they currently do may differ from the FAM. I don't see anything that seems to help the OP, though. – Dennis Jul 6 '18 at 4:03
  • The B1 says I can only do these following activities: Conduct Negotiations Solicit sales or investment Discuss planned investment or purchases. Make investments or purchases Attend Meetings, and participate in them fully. Interview and hire staff. Conduct research. I still feel this does not properly cover what I want to do – Rob Jul 10 '18 at 6:51
  • @Dennis a B-1 in lieu of H-1B must be specifically issued as such. – phoog Jul 10 '18 at 13:55

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