O1 VISAS– possible problems and CSA response

By October 8, 2009Blog

On Wed, 14 October, I am organizing a casting symposium on the subject of:

sponsored by Spotlight and The London Film Festival
Catherine Shoard from the Guardian is moderating, and the panelists are:
Duane Clarke, Jeremy Conway, Priscilla John, Pippa Harrison and Jeremy Zimerman.
The event is sold out and already people have been writing in to ask if there will be a transcript available. The answer is YES, there will eventually. I also want to post some information about O1 Visas in advance.
The O1 Visa is what European actors need as a first step to working as an artist in the USA. There is information on it in my book, Secrets from the Casting Couch, or you an consult:
http://www.usimmigrationsupport.org/visa_o1.html Please note that this website is not a government organization; they are private. I have not researched them, so I can’t recommend them, but I will look into some recommendations. If anyone recommends a particular company, please let me know.
It has, however recently been called to my attention that there are limitations involved with the O1. Amy Mathieson, a British actor, who is now living and working in LA, wrote me this letter (click here). In this letter she starts by telling some horror stories about British actors who were actually cast, but then not allowed to work on their Visas. She then proceeds with some more positive news on the same subject and makes suggestions to other British actors.
I consulted C.S.A. (Casting Society of America) members to find out what their take on it was

Dear Casting Directors,

I will sit on a panel in London soon that will discuss the issue of British actors wanting to work in the US. I understand from some British actors that the O1 Visa is no longer accepted as a work permit by the big studios and networks in the US, and that the Green Card is required. Is this truly the case? Are O1 visas being turned down? Please if you have a moment, share your comments on this.

– Nancy Bishop

and here is the response:

Most Studios still do in my experience however NBC/Universal will not accept 01 Visa’s that have not been specifically applied for by the studio. 99.9 percent of the time this is not the case. I was recently unable to hire an actor on “Law & Order: SVU” who was a series regular on “24” and “Califorication” for this very reason.

-Jonathan Strauss

Yes, unfortunately it is true. Sony will no longer allow us to hire actors with O1 Visas – they must have a Green Card.

– Camille St. Cry

I imagine every studio has a different view on this. We do mostly television and hire foreign actors all the time. At CBS-Paramount, they have to approve an O1 Visa, by reviewing all the paperwork that was submitted along with the application. We’ve had very few problems, usually fixable by resubmitting the paperwork with broader language.

So long as the manager-sponsored O1 Visa isn’t project specific and allows the artist to work on a broad range of projects, it’s usually fine.

Since it may take a couple days to get approval, we’ve actually gotten to the point where we will preemptively have the studio review the paperwork as we’re setting up someone for producers.

Feel free to email or call with any questions. Hope this helps.


Jason Kennedy

I also spoke with MEG LIBERMAN (who works for CBS) on the phone and she gave a more complicated response:

Basically if an actor is hired by one production company to work on a particular production, that Visa might not extend to another production company. The best thing to do is get a “Blanket O1” that is not specific to any one project. The language on the underlying paperwork has to be as broad as possible.

In some cases Meg has had trouble hiring foreign actors on episodic work. Pilots can be easier since they have 21 days to petition for a visa. NBC does not accept the O1 because it’s owned by General Electric.

Meg hired one actor on “Medium” for NBC (but production company was CBS studios) then hired the same actor on “Las Vegas” which used a different production company, which didn’t accept the Visa. So after shooting a few scenes realized that she had to fire him and it cost the production $250,000 to re-shoot.

Ultimately the Green Card is the best thing to get.

I want to emphasize that I am no expert on these matters and that a a good immigration lawyer is required for anyone seeking to work in the US.