Visas & London Film Scene

I recently received these questions from a reader:

Q: I am having the same trouble with my visa....I do not have my degree yet so coming with a work visa is proving almost well as convincing employers to convince the government that they need you....I am trying to get into school now at last minute in clearing...but how did you come over....any advice...also how does London's film community stand to LA (I know LA IS the center of the world) but I am curious about London's film scene though I am gonna focus on theatre there first and getting into drama school...

A: I came to London on 5 different visas:
1) The first was on a student visa while I was at university, and I stayed for just over 4 months. I just had to prove that I was indeed a student, show where I was staying, and show my return ticket.

2) Then about 6 years later, I came for 9 months on a visitor's visa. Technically you're only allowed to stay 6 months on a visitor's visa, and you have to prove - with bank statements, proof of sufficient funds and that you have a place to stay - that you're able to fund yourself while you're here, as you're not legally allowed to work in the UK as a visitor. I ended up staying for 9 months because I went to France, then re-entered the UK and was somehow granted a 3 month visitor's visa on top of my original 6 month visa. At this point re-entering was becoming tricky because immigration wasn't buying my visitor's status and pointedly suggested I should get a different kind of visa to suit my situation.

3) When my boyfriend and I decided our relationship was going to work out, I embarked on getting a Highly Skilled Migrant visa, which was essentially a self-employed visa. My boyfriend and I weren't ready to get married and didn't want to rush things by getting a marriage visa. So we hired a British solicitor who assured me that my combination of web design and acting experience should be enough to earn the HSM visa. While the Home Office was reviewing my application, I had to be out of the country. With my life in limbo, I lived with my parents in Maryland and waited for several months, having no idea how long it would take (there were delays), if I'd be successful, and what the hell I'd do if I didn't get it. £2500, piles of paperwork, and 4 months later, I was denied.

4) I then returned to London on a visitor's visa for a few weeks to see my boyfriend, and decide what our plan of action was. In the end we decided to get a fiancee visa as we thought we were nearly there, and by the time the visa ran out months later we'd be ready to get married. We resented the government having an influence on the course of our relationship, but in the end it worked out just fine.

5) After returning to the USA again, taking the train from Baltimore to the British Consulate in New York city and securing my fiancee visa I returned to the UK. This time entry was a little smoother, although I forgot to wear my 'engagement ring', and the immigration officer grilled me a little over that and my whole proposal story.

6) Finally my boyfriend and I did get married. I got my Temporary Leave to Remain (for 2 years) visa and was allowed to work, but not to receive state benefits (NHS, unemployment, etc), although I was allowed to pay taxes.

7) Two years later, I had to prove to the Home Office that my husband and I had been living together continuously for that period and I had to take the 'Life in the UK' test to prove I, as a foreigner from America, could speak English, and knew about British culture. £1000 later, I was granted the mother of all visas - Indefinite Leave to Remain. I could work AND receive state benefits. When and if my husband have kids, we're definitely giving them dual citizenship, so they never have to go through what I did.

The London Film Scene:
It's not LA, but there's a lot going on. There are quite a few American films that get made over here and cast in London - and they always want genuine Americans. For example, I went up for 1408 with John Cusack, and both BATMAN films starring Christian Bale - I was seen by the director, Christopher Nolan, in a call back. And most recently I was cast in a British made TV film about the Apollo 11 moon landing. MOONSHOT was almost completely cast over here - with one LA guy cast as Buzz Aldrin - and we shot in Lithuania. There are also lots of American TV pilots cast over here January - March. As in any market, it's hard to break in, but it is possible.

But if you're thinking of going to drama school - come over here on a student visa. That will be the most straight forward way.


Anonymous said…
Very useful information about various types of UK visa and how one might be creative in solving visa issues.
Anonymous said…
I am going to try to come through clearing and somehow get into school and get it funded by the end of sept.....its the 8th so I have a lot of work I am almost done with my statement for clearing.....I am gonna go to school over there work...and try to do theatre and see where my career takes me...its not logical for me to go there but for some reason my intuition is pulling me there instead of LA(I have been doing theatre and going to school in texas for years now and have been in Austin for the last year...) I am 23 now feeling its time to attempt going more towards my career...but even so europe would be a great experience huh................I have a couple questions has great theatre like new york but I would think a bit of a better film scene....I have the dream of working my way up from the theatre into films like my favorite british actors instead of going to LA and trying to be in this niave will they hire me for things other than american films and plays? much is the mininimum bank balance that I need to show them when I come...I have somewhere to stay...I am gonna get into school(hopefully)what chunk of money do I need to have.

oh and thanks for the advice on the voice acting for video games....I LOVVEEE JAPANESE ANIMATION AND SOME VIDEO GAMES MAINLY THE ONES FROM JAPAN you'd be surprised. I don't know about the german video games but the ones from japan(not america) are very very detailed and well told stories and take you on a journey and i love that. The two big companies(Animation) are here in texas but I wanna be over there...I am definatly going to do that...thanks and thanks for dealing with my run on sentences here sorry I am in a hurry

Neil said…
Great information. Having come from Landover MD and moving to the UK, I though this was cool. I have passed my british citizenship test , so no visa required

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