I'm A Legal Alien
So where do you begin? Before we get into the “ins” and “outs” of the baby steps I am learning, let me just say, I studied recently with a fantastic coach in LA called Lesly Khan. She said something in class one day. “Quit! If you quit I will go out and buy pizza for everyone.” I understand what she means. In another quote that sends the same message a little more gently; “Don’t act…it’s a tough life. If you ignore this advice, congratulations…you were meant to be an actor!”
Basically she doesn’t wish this struggle on anyone, and that if we choose to live a life of total financial, emotional, physical and spiritual instability, well then clearly you HAVE to be and actor. There is no choice. So suck it up and read on…
Lets begin with the visa.
The ever-elusive Paramount key to the chamber of Universal Secrets, behind the Lions Gate of opportunity. -See what I did there….. ( arg throw up) Before I start this bit, let me make it clear that as versatile as I profess to be, I am not a qualified immigration lawyer, nor have a acted as one in any production. Yet. Just saying. I am merely going to tell you what I have learnt.
As South African actors, you basically have two choices. The O1 Visa or the Green Card. Both will get you going in the States. Do research the differences between these two. Google is your friend. There are pros and cons to both. I chose the Green Card. As I have learnt, more and more Studios out here won’t hire actors on an 01 Visa, and because of this, some agents/managers are more reluctant to sign you if you are on this Visa. Unless they sponsor you in which case, champagne for everyone. It does, however, allow you to work within your chosen field that the Visa was intended for – BUT ONLY IN THAT FIELD. You can’t waitress, do odd jobs or make ends meet in any other area of employment. It therefore does limit your income opportunities, unless you are coming out here and falling straight into your first acting job that takes an O1, and then maintaining it. Teach me! Central Casting, who places you in Background and Stand In jobs, don’t take actors on an O1. This might seem irrelevant based on your starring role in Generations, but we all have to start somewhere here, and Central has been the reason I’m not stripping on Sunset.
The Green Card cost about the same (maybe slightly more) and this, my friends, is your Golden Ticket into Willy Wonker’s Immigration system. You are legally allowed to work in the USA in whatever capacity you choose. Both options entitle you to a Social Security number (like our SA ID numbers). A Green Card allows you to apply for citizenship after living in the USA for 6 months of a year, for 5 years. I personally feel you shouldn’t need to leave for 6 months of a year whilst you’re getting your feet on the ground here and building connections and experience. However, an O1 doesn’t require you to be in the States for any period of time to keep it active. You are able to jet between SA and the USA as you like.
The ONLY person that you should deal with regarding all of this is the brilliant ex SA immigration lawyer Chris Wright. He owns The Wright Law Firm out here in LA and has a 98% success rate with getting Immigration status approved. He will guide you through every legal step and will be honest with you as to which option will work best for you. A Green Card is trickier to get, and you have to sell your soul and the life of your first unborn child in paperwork, but if he says you have a good case, I would recommend shooting for the top.
Chris Wright: http://www.thewrightlawfirm.com 22144 Clarendon Street, Suite 302A Woodland Hills, California 91367
You other option is of course the Green Card Lottery. I entered the lottery a few years ago and would recommend exploring the USCIS (United States Citizenship and Immigration Services) website. As well as www.usagreencardlottery.org/ I entered using the USAFIS site, but they do charge you. http://www.usafis.org You can always apply online for free with the Department of Homeland Security website: http://www.dhs.gov
Apparently entries open in October and you can only apply once a year. The draw happens in February, so you should know by the end of March if you’ve won or not.
There are a few scams out there, so be careful. I do know people that have been successful in winning the lottery, so it does happen. Just a small thing that nobody told me. You don’t have to carry your Green Card around with you and present it to every person who questions where you are from. I know that sounds obvious, but I didn’t know. Put it in a safe place at home. Lock it away. I thought I might need it as proof of identification. No. Your drivers license will suffice. I carried mine around with me in my purse and happened to still have it in there when 2 days before Thanksgiving in 2012, two lovely girls coaxed me out of my apartment, broke in and stole my life. Including my bag which had my purse in it, which in turn had all my bank cards, SA drivers and of course, my Green Card. I now had no access to money and no proof of ID. Needless to say, after as much hysteria as only an actress who has lost her Marc Jacobs handbag can muster, I managed to sort my life out. Long story short the Green Card and SA license was recovered but everything else, including my Mac and brand new uninsured iPhone had been GIVEN, with THANKS, to the land of LA Pawnshops. Yay! Turkey for everyone!!
Moving and working here successfully is possible! We have some of the most ridiculously amazing talent at home, which needs to play on the world’s stage. I’m a big believer. We have some of the best training, and more importantly we have that South African GEES. As South Africans, we work harder and are more determined than most. I truly believe that. I have now worked with a variety of levels out here, and can honestly say, we can more than hold our own. We are versatile out of necessity, and we have brilliant work ethic. We are fiercely brave.
Even if you don’t stay, your journey here will obviously make you more patriotic. Come play in the USA.