Coming to America

Jess writes in:

I’m an experienced production set, location and office runner in Britain (basically our equivalent of a PA, sure you know that…) with loads of credits in prime-time UK TV programmes.

I’ve wanted to work in the US since ‘always’ but can’t for the life of me work out how to get my first job / rung over in the US.

So this is my question to you APA, how does a non-US citizen get work with LA/NY based production companies? I have friends in both states so moving wouldn’t necessarily be difficult.

Any tips or am I asking the impossible here?

I like how she (mis)spells “programs.” She probably calls seasons “series,” too. Funny colloquialisms aside, the immigration question is tough.

I’ve touched on the subject before, but it’s worth bringing up again.

I’m no immigration lawyer, but my understanding is, the US limits work visas to people who bring skills that can’t otherwise be found in America. (There might be other ways to get a visa, but again, I’m not an expert.)

Unfortunately, for you (and me, honestly), finding PAs in America isn’t hard. Hell, a lot of shows won’t hire PAs from out of state, much less outside the country.

If you can somehow find another legal way into the country, your experiences are definitely worth while. I would recommend using the title known to Americans, “production assistant,” rather than “office runner,” just so everyone’s on the same page.

Another option is to exercise patience. While PAing isn’t a unique skill, directing, writing, even editing, production designing, and cinematography…ing(?) definitely are. Work your way up in the English television industry, then move over here later on.

America is a great country, and we’ll be happy to have you. As long as you prove yourself useful to our economy.

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5 Responses

  1. Yeah. I know people from Canada, Greece, all parts of Europe, even countries in Africa and Latin America and they either 1. married an american 2. won a green card (I know of one such person; you should def do the lottery every October; it’s worth a try and it’s free!) 3. are a KEY in their department. As in, they were doing their job in their home country and a person within their group (say, the production designer) received critical acclaim, got work in the US, and brought their group along. Even so, it’s VERY tricky; a Canadian friend of mine said that he has to exit the country (even though he is now American) when a show works in Canada after a certain number of months so that he won’t get taxed TWICE, among other complications, and he is REALLY good at his job (as in, working on FIVE features at the moment).
    Visas: an immigration lawyer (first consult is free) will tell you the same but, you can either:
    2. marry an American
    3.Win the green card lottery (hey, every Oct/Nov your window of opportunity awaits)
    4. be an Extra-ordinary person of merit (I know of quite a few persons and the cost is quite expensive for this particular visa, even if it is the temporary kind, an American company will have to sponsor you and it’s still up to USCIS to give you the length of time they see as appropriate for the job you will perform; however, if you are granted this visa you can apply immediately for a green card and obtain one within three months; I know of three such persons who did. You need to start amassing articles and references that show your critical acclaim for this one.
    5. prove that you have a business in your home country with a net of at least half a mill.
    6. work in another field for a company (usually tech or IT/STEM related), hope that they sponsor you and get your green card eventually.

    It’s a tough route either way, because you have to bring VALUE, particularly niche value to win at this. It’s too easy for a company to just decide they’re not going to pull through for a non-US citizen and drop the ball and then you end up as ‘out of status’ or having to go home (this happened to TWO of my friends). So I hate to be harsh, but I’d suggest quite frankly, getting out of just being a PA and find a specific skill within the industry so that you can build a portfolio, clout, etc. But that’s just my opinion.

  2. To Jess,
    I have the opposite problem. I’m an American working in the theater and film industry desperately wanting to work in Britain. Have you run into many Americans working in UK film industry and do you know of how to get involved?

  3. I have no idea about the bureaucratic realities of a British citizen trying to get work as a PA in the US, but from what I’ve seen over the years, an English accent is golden here in Hollywood. It might help to be an attractive young woman, of course — but that ALWAYS helps in this town, accent or no.

  4. I’ve run into a couple of Brits – one Key Set PA and one POC come to mind. If memory serves correctly, they’re both married to American women, though.

    It sounds cliche and cynical, but maybe come stateside and look for love?

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