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As a UK writer, do I need to obtain a working visa to perform an assignment while in the US?

By Robert L. Seigel

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Question: A company in Los Angeles has shown interest in one of my screenplays and want to meet me and possibly pay me to do rewrites. Do I need to obtain a working visa if I perform this assignment while in the US? Are there any other legal issues I need to know about?

First off, I recommend that you consult with an immigration attorney in the U.S. or where you reside since he or she works in this field day in and day out and can recognize the nuances of when a temporary work stay in the U.S. becomes an open-ended one.

If your screenplay is being optioned or purchased by this U.S. producer, there is no immigration issue since you have not rendered services for the U.S. producer yet. If your screenplay is optioned or purchased by the U.S. producer and you render services where you reside, there should be no immigration issue. However, if you would be rendering services for the U.S. producer while your are in the U.S., you would have to obtain a work visa which would cover the time you are rendering such services in the U.S. Many people are tempted to obtain a tourist visa or no visa, work on the side and take their chances; however, these people do such things at their own legal peril and the consequences may effect their ability to stay or even live in the U.S. in the future.

If your stay working in the U.S. continues past the term of the work visa and you want to permanently reside and work in the U.S., you would have to apply for a green card. Usually, in order to obtain one, you would be claiming to be an “artist” or one with unique abilities (as defined under U.S. immigration law). You would work with your immigration counsel to secure letters of recommendation and other written evidence that you are a solidly professional artist or one who has unique abilities working in your field.

On a separate note, those who render services outside their country of residence, often have to deal with double taxation: once by their country of residence where you receive your income for the work rendered outside their country of residence and taxed again by the country where they rendered the services. This situation has been resolved in the past by those rendering services outside their country of residence paying income tax once in one country and receiving a tax credit from the other country which can be applied against any taxes which are due by them.

Please discuss this issue with your accountant.

Good luck.

About Robert L. Seigel

Robert L. Seigel ([email protected]) is a NYC entertainment attorney and a partner in the Cowan DeBaets Abrahams & Sheppard LLP law firm which specializes in the representation of clients in the entertainment and media areas.

DISCLAIMER: The information provided here is intended to provide general information and does not constitute legal advice. You should not act or rely on such information without seeking the advice of an attorney and receiving counsel based on your particular facts and circumstances. Many of the legal principles mentioned might be subject to exceptions and qualifications, which are not necessarily noted in the answers. Furthermore, laws are subject to change and vary by jurisdiction.
Screenwriting Article by Robert L. Seigel

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