Guest Column: Visa options for Aussie writers looking to break into Hollywood
If you’re an aspiring screenwriter who lives in Australia, starting a career in Hollywood can sometimes feel like a pipe dream. We all know how hard it can be to start a career as a writer from Los Angeles, but from ten thousand miles away it can seem impossible. However, it needn’t: what you need is a strategy to help you get there.
The Visa Waiver Program
First up, let’s take a look at the easiest option — coming over without a visa. If you want to stay in Los Angeles for up to three months, you can do so without getting a visa at all, as Australia is part of the Visa Waiver Program (VWP). This can be a great way of checking out the scene, making contacts, taking meetings, etc. and then flying back home before the ninety days are up.
This isn’t really a long term solution, however. Not only is it expensive, but US immigration doesn’t look kindly on people who “abuse” the waiver system. I’ve known a couple of people who’ve flown back and forth a few times a year and got themselves denied entry because of a “lack of strong ties” to their home country.
If you spend more time in the States than in your home country over the course of a year, i.e. over six months, you’re likely to be denied entry. This doesn’t mean you can never enter the States again, it just means you’ll need a visa every time you want to do so. You’re VWP rights are gone for life.
For more information check the official US Immigration website.
B-1 Temporary Business Visa
The B-1 visa is a good option as it lasts for up to six months, although it’s ultimately up to the discretion of the Immigration Officer on the border how long you get. It’s designed for travelers visiting the States in a business capacity; for screenwriters, this could be negotiating a contract with a manager, producer or studio, or attending an event like a screenwriting conference.
The B-1 can be tricky to renew — once you’ve come over half a year, you’ll need a pretty good reason to convince Immigration that you need to come over again — but consult with a good attorney first. You’ll also need to attend an interview at your local US embassy.
For more information on the B-1 click here.
This is the visa to aim for if you have some credits and think you can display “extraordinary ability” in screenwriting. Let’s say you’ve won screenwriting contests, received awards, are a member of the Australian Writer’s Guild, published articles in well-known magazines, and have credits in TV or film. Well, then you’d be in a pretty good position to apply for an O-1, which would give you up to two years in the States.
The good thing about this visa is that it’s renewable indefinitely, so there’s much more scope for making things happen once you’re in Hollywood than the B-1. And once you have some real screenwriting credits in Australia, you’re in a much more powerful position to leverage your career in LA because producers, agents and managers will be that much more likely to take you seriously.
You’re also allowed to work in the States while on this visa, unlike on the B-1, which can be a great help. This is the visa to go for if you have the talent.
Here’s the official page on the O-1 visa.
Diversity Immigrant Visa
Australian citizens are eligible to enter the Diversity Immigrant Visa, otherwise known as the Green Card Lottery, which takes in 50,000 new immigrants a year. If you’re lucky enough to win a Green Card you’re granted permanent residence in the United States and a path to citizenship.
Australians enjoy the highest percentage-chance of winning, according to the statistics. Applications open once a year every October and last a month, so good luck!
Alex Bloom is the founder of Script Reader Pro, a screenplay consultancy group made up of working Hollywood writers, speakers, and consultants. Sign up for their newsletter to get a free screenplay structure hack.