Episode 257 — Work Visas in USA


Episode 257 — Work Visas in USA

To work in another country or to get a work visa, you need to qualify for it. Before an employer can hire you, you have to fit the criteria to get the work visa in the first place. Most of us realize that when it’s too late: When you need the job, or even have the job offer — but we don’t qualify for the visa. Then it’s back to square one.

So how do you go about getting a work visa, to work and live in the U.S.? if you’re from a different country, there is a lot of complexity around it and it’s good to understand how this works. In this Podcast, Allan shares his expertise with several types of U.S. visas: how they work, the qualifications you need and what you can do right now, to be proactive with your visa application.



[03:03] Work Visas and Additional Resources from Allan’s Podcast

[05:54] Qualifying Criteria for Work Visas

[10:54] The Application Process

[12:28] Types of Visas

[13:30] How Much Time and Money Do Visas Take

[15:19] The Evidence You Need for a Work Visa

[18:47] What You Can Do Right Now!



Hello, everyone! This is Allan McKay.

Welcome to Episode 257! I want to talk about work visas, specifically around working in the U.S. I’ve already put together a bunch of Episodes on immigration:

But I thought I’d start the conversation over and get really focused on this subject.

Please share this Episode with others.  

Let’s talk: U.S. Work Visas!  



[00:46] Have you ever sent in your reel and wondered why you didn’t get the callback or what the reason was you didn’t get the job? Over the past 20 years of working for studios like ILM, Blur Studio, Ubisoft, I’ve built hundreds of teams and hired hundreds of artists — and reviewed thousands of reels! That’s why I decided to write The Ultimate Demo Reel Guide from the perspective of someone who actually does the hiring. You can get this book for free right now at www.allanmckay.com/myreel!

[30:53] One of the biggest problems we face as artists is figuring out how much we’re worth. I’ve put together a website. Check it out: www.VFXRates.com! This is a chance for you to put in your level of experience, your discipline, your location — and it will give you an accurate idea what you and everyone else in your discipline should be charging. Check it out: www.VFXRates.com!



[03:03] Have you ever wanted to work in another country? Perhaps, because it has a bigger industry or more mainstream projects like Hollywood films? Or to leverage your career and get paid to travel around the work to do your work, get more life experience? The benefits are endless! You can always leverage working in a bigger city like Los Angeles or Vancouver — and to use that to negotiate a higher rate in your home country.

[03:38] Here is the thing: To work in another country or to get a work visa, you need to qualify for it. Before an employer can hire you, you have to fit the criteria to get the work visa in the first place. Most of us realize that when it’s too late: When you need the job, or even have the job offer — but we don’t qualify for the visa. Then it’s back to square one.

[04:05] I’ve been living as an immigrant in the U.S. for 20 years, on and off. I’ve worked in many countries — from Germany to Canada — and everywhere else in the between. I’ve also helped other artists get their work visas, in games, film and other industries. So this is a subject I’ve had a lot of experience in, both personally and with helping other people. On top of that, I’ve also interviewed some top immigration lawyers around the world. That includes:

[04:56] So I’ve been going around and speaking with these experts to get a lot of knowledge. ONE LAST THING: Now, I’m not personally a lawyer, neither do I pretend to play one. So I always recommend seeking legal advice but I’m happy to share my experience so far.



[05:54] So how do you go about getting a work visa, to work and live in the U.S.? There was an article that came out from Rising Sun Pictures, a big studio in Australia (https://vfxnews.rsp.com.au/). They put out this article on how to get a job. But there were a lot of people chiming in, in the comments, saying they didn’t hire people from certain countries. I had to step in because I love that studio! The problem is that a lot of people don’t understand how work visas / permits work. Because of that, they naturally blame the studio where they’re the ones that don’t qualify. Under the rules of the country, you don’t match the qualifications. The studio has nothing to do with whether you qualify for a work permit. At least in the U.S., the company can apply on behalf of you — but you’re the person who has to match the necessary criteria.

[06:59] This is critical to mention. You can’t complain about the studio not hiring you. The studio isn’t going to hire you unless they’re 100% certain you meet the criteria. If they’re going to spend a lot of time and money and lawyer time on your application, they need to know that the success rate is relatively high. The process is quite lengthy to go through!

[07:25] It is critical to understand the politics behind all this because it isn’t as simple as: You’re applying for a job and if you’re from a different country, there is a lot of complexity around it and it’s good to understand how this works. Picture this: If anyone could come to LA and work on movies, what would that look like? You’ve got a country that has tens of millions of people and everyone in the world wants to say, “I’d like to go direct,” or “I’d like to do visual effects” — then moves over here and takes all the jobs. This is where the infrastructure would flip around where no one in this country would be able to get jobs because they’re being filled by other people. For you to take a job in the U.S., they need to first offer it to someone in the U.S. and then prove to the government that no one in the country qualifies for this position. Then, they can offer that position to you — and go through the visa process.

[08:42] That is something critical to think about for a second. If I’m going to move to this country, there needs to be no one in this country that qualifies to do what I do. At least, on paper, that’s what you need to put a case together. And that’s what we need to do: To prove one way or another that you aren’t taking someone else’s job. You’re doing a job no one else is qualified to do which is why they needed to bring someone from another country.

[09:23] Who’s to say if you’re the best in the world for this job? That’s why the lawyers get involved. You need to prove that no one else can do the job. They need to go out and look for someone in that country first and then prove they couldn’t find anyone. That’s actually part of the process. When you originally apply for a job, that’s when the process starts. The HR department starts looking over your information, to present to their lawyers. But part of that too is that they need to go out there and make sure no one else can qualify for your position.

[10:16] Some countries will have certain agreements in place. If you’re in Spain and you want to go work in Italy, you’re part of the European Union. If you’re Australian, you can go work for Weta in New Zealand. You can just hop on a plane, go over there and start working. You don’t need a work permit. Other places have something like a working holiday visa. The U.S. doesn’t have any of those. Because of that, you need to qualify for that criteria.



[10:54] So how does the process actually work? First of all, you can’t apply for the job. It’s a bit of the-chicken-and-the egg scenario. If you were to come to the U.S. with the intent to look for work, you could get booted out and get banned from reentering the country. You’re not allowed to come in and look for work in the U.S. You also cannot apply for a work visa yourself either — only your employer can. This is tricky because of that predicament: How ever you go about finding a job is up to you, but the only person that can apply for your visa is your employer. The key thing they need to make an offer to you. They need to be the ones to apply for your visa as well.

[11:45] That’s very important to know: You can’t just mail your application for a visa. I could apply for a Green Card Lottery (although I’m not sure they’re still doing that). I have a couple of friends who’ve gotten their Green Cards that way. Typically, the employer has to make the offer to you and file a case with the USCIS to apply for you to come over and work for them. Like I said, to do that, you have to be more qualified than anyone else in this country. On paper, they need to put together a case to show that.



[12:28] There are different types of visas you can get. The most traditional one is the H1B visa. There is also the E3 visa for Australians. The O1 visa is the rockstar visa: It’s for someone of extraordinary ability. And that type of visa has more freedom to be able to freelance. Potentially, can also sponsor other people to come in as well. In addition, there are L1’s, J1’s, K1’s (which is the fiance visa). Traditionally, you’ll be looking at H1B and O1.

[13:16] There is a lot more intricate stuff that I can get into. Let me know if you have questions. Just leave a comment.



[13:30] In terms of how long it takes and how much it cost: It takes a couple of months to put together your case, then a couple more for it to go through. Don’t be surprised if it takes up to 6 months or longer. I remember I worked on Blade. I was coming in for pre-production but my visa took so long, we jumped right into production. Same thing with when I went to ILM. Visas do take a long time.

[14:13] This is something to keep in mind: Maybe you want to keep freelancing while waiting for your visa or maybe potentially work remotely for that company before you come over. The more you’re aware of how long a visa takes, the better prepared you are.

[14:32] I’ve dealt with some shady stuff in the past, like my employer making me pay for it all. The other thing I’d point out is that they own you and own your residency there. The entire time you’re living in the U.S., you’re under the thumb of the employer. You might also be getting paid less than people who are American or Green Card holders. There are things like that to keep in mind. It’s part of the politics of working as an immigrant, because they’re paying for your visa.



[15:19] The key thing is for you to come over, you have to present evidence that you’re the only one who can do this job. It can seem intimidating that way but keep in mind there are plenty of people working over here. It’s just that what the case involves: The lawyers have to prove you have the talent which is why you’re being brought over. Otherwise, it creates that imbalance. I saw this documentary on BBC called How to Create Your Own Country. I find it fascinating because it talks about the immigration policies.

[16:22] The key things you may need to present for your case are: press, education, brand, awards. Anytime you’re on tv being interviewed as an expert, or you’re in magazine articles, or you’ve written a book, any awards you’ve received. Your education plays a role. It’s not necessary and it’s changed. I remember talking to Tim Miller. In the past, you’d need to show a 4-year degree. For every year of education you lack, you’d need to show 4 years of experience. You’d need 16 years of experience, in other words. Immigration policies have changed drastically. I read this article on a flight once that mentioned Switzerland having the most advanced policies. If you were a doctor or an artist, you’d be rewarded with a grant as an incentive to come over. The U.S. has always been different. At the same time, it’s been changing and updating.

[18:13] When I first moved to the U.S. in 2003, I didn’t meet another Australian for a long time. Then the E3 visa came out. Overtime, the rules have gotten easier. Keeping that in mind that education isn’t as crucial as it used to be. I think there are better ways to spend your money and you can work around it. It comes down to experience, press, awards, those sorts of things.



[18:47] What can you do right now to get started? Most people wait until they get their dream job: ILM or Sony. They think that once they get that job offer, they’re golden. All they need is that work permit! They apply and go through the process to only realize that they don’t qualify for a visa. They have to wait years to build a case. But there is so much you can do now, rather than wait for later. That way you’re set up for the future! Having all the evidence in place will benefit you no matter what company or which country you decide to go to, for work.

[19:39] In general, it’s better to start thinking ahead and start positioning yourself for success now. That way there is no holt. Keep in mind that a lot of this applies to building your brand. So what you’re doing now doesn’t go to waste. It will help elevate you. The key thing is to think about hitting all these marks. I was always aware of that. I was collecting all the evidence and chose certain projects depending on how they’d help me down the line. I wanted to set myself up to apply for working abroad in any country:

  • You’re going to need at least 3 letters of reference from employers that have worked with you. They should have some clout. I had letters from all the major studios in LA. I always made sure whom I would ask for those letters and I wanted to make sure they were ready to go. I would become familiar with my employers and I stayed in touch, so they could write an accurate reference letter. That’s a critical point! I myself have written plenty of letters of reference for other people, as well.
  • The more awards you have — the better. The more you get strategic with your career, the more you can start attaching yourself to projects and studios that care about that: VES, Emmys, Oscars. Super Bowl adds tend to get nominated. You can start being more strategic. Who are the key players in the industry? It’s not make or break, but it helps! Going on forums and YouTubes can help you find filmmakers.
  • Press is key! I started getting really aggressive with press everywhere I went. I would contribute to books or magazines, anywhere I could get my name mentioned. This is all printed media. Internet publication matters somewhat, but print definitely has more clout. I started targeting all of these.
  • A friend of mine Dan Roarty had an ABOUT section on his website (www.allanmckay.com/30). It had all the awards listed, all the press. It was such a subtle thing. When I had him on my Podcast, I asked him about it. It was for his work visa. He was building a list of all his stuff.

[26:26] So this is what you can start doing right now. All the press that you have, or as you start getting aggressive about doing interviews and to get notoriety — you can start adding it to your website. You can point your lawyers to it. That also helps you build your brand. But mostly, you will be ready when it’s time to send your stuff to your lawyers.

[28:06] When it came time to print my case, I spent $150 on printing. I had that much stuff! Going into the U.S. Consulate, I was confident that I would qualify as an expert. Because it’s up to the government of that country to decide whether you qualify. So you need to understand the qualifying criteria, so you can prepare. The fate of whether you get the job will depend on that understanding, rather than blaming your employer.

[29:18] The more you start having a plan in place, the better off you’ll be. I want to know if there are specifics you want to know:

  • How much does a visa cost?
  • How long does it take?
  • How to find the best immigration lawyer for that country?
  • What options do you have to expedite it?
  • What do you do if you have to leave the country?
  • What other loopholes there are?
  • What country has the most lenient rules?

[30:24] Let me know which countries you want to learn about. Maybe you prefer to work in Australia. Thanks again for listening!

I’ll be back next week. Until then —

Rock on!


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