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I've recently taken a new job as a cinematographer, employed full-time for a UK-based business. As part of my job I am required to travel to the US frequently to shoot commercials, interviews, mini-documentaries, etc.

I'm not certain yet, but I would estimate I will be visiting 6–12 times per year, all for this purpose. Most often trips would be 3–4 days but these may stretch as long as 2 weeks on longer productions.

As I'm paid by a UK company and wont be working for anyone else on these trips, am I okay to travel on the ESTA VWP program?

Is there anything else I need to be aware of when travelling? I understand my circumstances are quite unusual so just want to be sure.

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    does your employer have experience with sending film crew overseas? they should not be requiring you to figure this out imo – nkjt Nov 8 '18 at 10:43
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    Not sure this is a real duplicate of @Traveller's suggestion. The previous question is about working remotely, whereas this one is about working on-site with work that by its nature needs to be carried out in the US. That's a potentially pretty big difference from an immigration point of view. Different visas may be available or even required. In particular an I visa would potentially be relevant here. – Henning Makholm Nov 8 '18 at 11:16
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    @HenningMakholm Indeed. There's the natural question of "If the company wants to film in the US, why don't they hire a US film crew?" and that makes a huge difference to immigration issues. – David Richerby Nov 8 '18 at 11:18
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    @TWilliams Sure. But the US would obviously rather those people were Americans, employed by American companies and paying US taxes. You don't need to justify your company's decisions to us but I'm bringing it up because it's the sort of thing I expect immigration officials to be very interested in. – David Richerby Nov 8 '18 at 12:18
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It's probably a no in your case.

It's a really tricky one and nobody knows the answer.

https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/us-visas/tourism-visit/visa-waiver-program.html

The general idea is:

You're allowed to come 'on business' but you're not allowed 'to work'.

This would have to be the most bent rule on the planet, though.

https://travel.stackexchange.com/a/123350/19233

Then there are people who try to push the envelope

Work as freelancer while tourist in US for an already existing US client?

The tricky thing in your case is ...

The damned cameras!

About 18 billion programmers waltz in to the US every day ("I'm just going for a meeting!") and then work their asses off. Who doesn't have a laptop? It does not look "work-related".

But. In your case you'll show up with photo gear; your profession is just different. Due to the equipment to begin with.

Say you were (honest to God) going only to have a production meeting about a project. That is 100% bona fide. You would just be "doing business". But if you're scouting? Tricky. Actually shooting? You're then like the tidal wave of programers who fly to the states ("just a meeting!") and then in reality work their asses off.

As a factual matter I can think of 5? folks known to me who've done this over the years and it's a total non-issue.

But in your case you're doing it repetitively - pretty much every month.

I really just don't know how that plays out.

My guess is probably "No" unfortunately.

Unfortunately this is a couple yrs old:

https://dlgvisablog.com/blog/o-visas-for-the-film-and-tv-industry

  • sorry! @audionuma already posted that link in a comment. – Fattie Nov 8 '18 at 15:29

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