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Old November 3rd, 2008, 03:15 AM   #1
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UK team shooting corporate video in USA

A client has asked me to make a second corporate promo for them, this time shooting at their HQ in Rockville, MD. The first video we produced for them was shot here in the UK.

In a previous life I was a very seasoned traveller and used to visit the USA from the UK around 20 times a year. That was on business. This will be the first time I have been to the States to make a video and I am concerned that it won't be regarded as being 'on business' but will be thought of as 'working', for which I presumably would need a visa.

Foolishly I hadn't even considered that until yesterday when my brother-in-law (who works for BBC News) told me the tale of a colleague who had travelled to the US to report on a boxing match and was detained by Immigration officials for 36 hours before being deported and barred from re-entry. He had tried to gain entry through the visa waiver programme, innocently believing he would not need a visa to do his job there for two days.

Could anyone advise me on this please? There will be two of us travelling and we will only be taking a single XL2 (hiring other equipment when we are there).

Thanks.

Ian . . .
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Old November 3rd, 2008, 03:39 AM   #2
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I can advise as I too used to visit the USA dozens of times a year with work. I then became self employed in 2001 and travelled to the USA about 6 times without issue as a self-employed person doing consultancy to a major US company.

Then.....(and this was before 9/11) I did a trip and got asked the same questions at immigration as usual and gave the same answers as usual and then got pulled to the side, grilled for 4 hours by an immigration official who could not even spell the word immigration as he asked me questions and typed (in very bad English) my answers into a PC and then I was deported which meant I was sent back to the UK on the very same plane that had taken me there.

I asked what happens if the plane was full (as it was full on the way out). The answer was that they would then lock me up in a cell overnight downtown (a cell shared with others that is....) at which point I got pretty uncomfortable with it all.

Then I had to sign the "statement", my passport was confiscated and I was mug shot, DNA samples and fingerprinted and then escorted by armed police to the plane, was boarded before even the 1st class passengers (I had flown 1st class there) and my stuff was given to the purser who returned it all to me just before landing at Heathrow. Basically, made to feel and treated like a criminal.

After that I got a L1 (Professional Visa) which lasted 3 years (and then another after that) and I was allowed to come and go into the USA more times than I can remember (I stopped counting after 50 times) and was even interviewed by the same immigration person on numerous occassions on arrival - and let in to do my work (by then I was employed by an American company, no longer my own). Now I am self employed again. Getting that L1 visa was a lot of legal work and took 6 weeks.

I am also aware that the USA have VERY recently (or are about to) change the Visa Waver programme that so many of us have used in the last 10 years or so and require ADVANCED details and information from ALL UK nationals as to their intended trip, where they will be staying and what doing. This is (or will be) MANDATORY and they need this information WELL in advance/not on the day of travel etc..

My advice is to contact the US Embassy London website (google it) and go from there - but my advice is also, most definitely Ian, not to risk or think you could talk your way out of it - you might end up spending a night (or more) in a cell with druggies, murderers (and, just to make it fun, maybe all your camera gear disappearing too !?!?)

I was deported on technicality (and later got a full apology from a very civil American in the US Embassy in London) and subsequently had no problems/had many enjoyable trips to the good old old US of A. However, once was enough though and during my very frequent travelling the last few years I now see it going on all the time - and I always thought those people escorted by armed guards onto the plane ahead of everyone else where VIP's! (now I know!)
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Last edited by Andy Wilkinson; November 3rd, 2008 at 07:20 AM. Reason: my inability to spell murderer whilst writing about others inability to spell!
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Old November 3rd, 2008, 03:48 AM   #3
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The Friendly Skies are a thing of the past and traveling has gotten very bizarre in recent years. Your best bet is to call the US Consulate/Embassy and determine the requirements for certain. You'll probably need written proof that you've been hired as a UK employee by the UK company and are being paid by them, and are not working for the US company. One of the few cases where the fact that XYZ Inc, UK Subsidiary and XYZ Inc, USA Parent are legally different companies may work in your favour.
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Old November 3rd, 2008, 04:37 AM   #4
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Gents,

Thank you for such quick replies. Andy, not a nice experience!

I just counted up the number of times I entered the States on my last passport and it amounted to no fewer than 76 occasions with all but 8 of them over the five years ending in 2002! Since 9/11 I have been in or through the US maybe 5 or 6 times.

In all that time I was never asked anything scary and in fact the only time I recall saying something a bit daft was when I used the word 'work' rather than 'business' which caused a raised eyebrow until I corrected myself.

Steve, sadly there is no UK subsidiary - I made the first video here through their European distributor. The second film is directly with them.

Out of interest, I wonder what the immigration response would be if I said we were there to receive training? Just out of curiosity, of course!

As you both wisely suggest, time to call the US Embassy.

Thanks again.

Ian . . .
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Old November 3rd, 2008, 07:30 AM   #5
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Wise move.

I forgot the best bit Ian. When I got back to my house in the UK the following day I phoned my wife from outside my front door (a typical "how was the trip, did you get much sleep etc." type conversation then followed).

I then told her to go downstairs and open the front door as I had a surprise for her.

Well, when she opened the door she was so shocked to see me that she gasped, jumped backwards and then dropped the phone - and broke it!

That wasted trip cost me 2 days time and a hefty air ticket cost (and the client paid for everything in full, BTW).... as well as a new cordless phone that I had to buy.

My mates and co-workers on both sides of the Atlantic really could not believe that someone like me could get deported and it still gets brought up in pub conversations (by them!) now and again when they wish to sully my character in public!
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Old November 3rd, 2008, 11:02 AM   #6
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Ouch!

You reminded me of something VERY dumb that I did a number of years back.

I flew back from a week in the US, collected my car from the long-stay, drove home - only for my wife to ask if my trip to Dubai had been cancelled. This trip had been arranged BY ME while I was in the States - I should have collected a ticket as soon as I got back to the UK, re-checked in and flown straight on to Dubai for three days. I forgot.

I was not happy. :-)
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Old November 3rd, 2008, 11:17 AM   #7
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Love it! Don't get me going on personal and unusual travel stories or this could get a long very thread! Good luck with the visa application (assuming you need one) and let us know what exactly is required. I might need to go to the states sometime soon too!
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Old November 17th, 2008, 02:22 PM   #8
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Well, I made it, without a single hitch and enjoyed a very warm welcome into the United States. You know what the Embassy advice was? They asked me if any part of my trip was for vacation purposes. As I'm taking next Saturday to do a little sightseeing and my colleague is visiting family, the answer was 'yes'. Their advice was therefore to say I was entering the country for a vacation and to keep shtum about making a video. Good to see a flexible attitude prevailing (although I was surprised, to say the least!).
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Old November 17th, 2008, 03:13 PM   #9
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Excellent news! :-)
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