Recently, I was delighted to welcome producers and ad agency executives to a bitesize breakfast webinar in which we covered the key immigration issues that have impacted the planning of overseas campaigns and shoots as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. With a large proportion of those shoots being US-based, the focus of discussion was on navigating the ongoing US entry ban by way of National Interest Exception (NIE) applications, i.e. pre-approval to enter the US as a business visitor where it is of national interest to provide vital support to the country’s critical infrastructure.

If you missed out and would like to have a listen in your own time to the 30-minute session, do get in touch for a link to the recording and slides.

For now, here’s a roundup of what agencies should be continuing to think about when planning overseas shoots in the coming months:

  • Forward thinking is going to be key. Where projects are generally fast-paced and teams, scripts, schedules, talent, etc. could all come together in the 2-3 weeks before an actual shoot window, revisions will need to be made to this timeline if the intention is to carry out that filming in the US with a UK-based team. Agencies are recommended to consider immigration needs early on in that timeline and, realistically, allowing 7-8 weeks will be necessary to factor in application assessment, preparation and processing.
  • Determine your core team for the campaign. NIE applications have a high bar for approval so submitting a request for, e.g. 3 producers on a small to medium size/budget campaign, will have a higher risk of refusal. Ensure each role is essential to the shoot and that each person’s physical presence overseas is critical to the campaign’s successful completion. Selecting your team ahead of time will also allow for an assessment of their role and background to (i) identify any applicable exemptions which could potentially sidestep the need for an NIE approval and (ii) determine the likelihood of a successful NIE application before any additional costs eat into your campaign budget.
  • Review the intended activities. Remember that an NIE approval will allow entry to the US but only on the basis of limited activities that are aligned with US business visitor rules. This is unless the traveller holds a valid US visa allowing them to carry out more ‘hands on’ work.
  • Assess the alternatives, e.g. can the shoot be completed at another time such as after the travel ban has been withdrawn? Can the shoot take place elsewhere or remotely? What will be the impact of the campaign not being able to proceed? In many cases, the answers to these questions will seem obvious, but considering these points and being able to include persuasive arguments in an application will strengthen the application and improve chances of an approval.

If you are need of support or advice for your overseas campaign planning, please feel free to get in touch.