Filmmakers applying for U.S. visas complain it’s 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, 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:

Five Time-Saving Tips for Filmmakers Preparing for U.S. Visas

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. Additionally, have things like recent pay statements and diplomas lined up.

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 what 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 raving testimony from a famous actor that loved working on your commercial. 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, an editor is unlikely to be interviewed in a newspaper, but they may review the film and praise the editing.

5. Prepare for the long term.

If you have a job opportunity lined up as the basis of your visa, consider exploring your network to line up additional work. A filmmaker can combine multiple projects and offers into a single application, saving time and money while extending the possible length of your work authorization. Co-productions with an American company, for example, can be a solid source of work.

The specifics of the visa process will vary depending on your classification, and an experienced immigration attorney can help you figure out which classification best fits your situation. These tips will make the ordeal less of an anchor. 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.

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