Dear Canadian Actor, working as an actor on two sides of the border is no cakewalk. I’ve gone through several accountants, spent countless hours online, have had many sleepless nights, and I’ve also had to make some pretty tough decisions about turning down work, and about how and when to exchange currencies. During that time of intense research, I had no idea how important it was for me to know about the O-1B Visa. 

You may also be working in Los Angeles, or you may be intending to do so. One topic you’ll find very few actors discussing is the impact an American work visa can have on Canadian finances, particularly if you work (or intend to) on both sides of the border. 

This is a topic I go over in Get Clever About VO Acting In Los Angeles Part III: Cross-Border Taxes

In this short letter, I won’t discuss finances per say (though it’s a riveting topic), but rather how important your contribution to the American economy could be in your visa renewal process.

Working as an Actor in the U.S.

While there are various visas that performers can use to work legally in the United States, the most common ones actors use are the green card (EB-1) visa and the O-1B visa.

The EB-1 Visa

The employment-based green card, which is called an EB-1 visa, is an immigrant visa. This means that if you keep it long enough and don’t break the rules, you can eventually become an American citizen.

A green card isn’t simply a permit to work in the United States however. It is a privilege that comes with responsibilities. How so? 

When you receive an EB-1 visa, you automatically become a lawful permanent resident (LPR) of the United States. As such, you are expected to contribute to the American economy. How? 

By getting hired in the United States, filing taxes there and creating economic ties with the United States. Note that this is not a written rule, but it is implied. In fact, if you leave the U.S. for more than six months, your LPR may be revoked. In other words, the green card isn’t just a get-in-free card, it has some strings attached. 

One way to think about this is to reflect on the process of legal immigration as a whole: Why do countries do it? The single major benefit of bringing people in is to have them boost the country’s economy.

The O-1 Visa

The O-1B visa, commonly referred to as the O-1, does not provide a path to citizenship, nor does it grant permanent residency in the United States. Instead, it’s a non-immigrant visa which grants its beneficiary (the actor) the status of a temporary worker.

Even if this visa severely limits employment opportunities in the United States, the American Government is still looking for a return on their investment. Again, this is not a written rule, but like for legal residents, the government hopes you will do your part in contributing to the American economy. 

So, when the time comes to apply for a new O-1B visa, the question of whether you’ve filed taxes in the United States could be taken into account. Note that since taxes and immigration are separate functions of government, numbers aren’t the priority. Have you filed, or have you not filed, is the question… 

This isn’t necessarily the case for everyone with an O visa, you may be a visa holder to whom this doesn’t apply, but I have seen quite a few friends who lived in the U.S. full time on an O visa being advised to file taxes before applying for a new O-1. 

This is definitely something you should discuss with your immigration lawyer and your accountant. 

The Taxman

Whatever you do, always keep taxes in the back of your mind. And if you work on both sides of the border regularly, consult a cross-border certified public accountant (CPA) or a cross-border enrolled agent to get a clear understanding of your filing options every year, and especially as your visa gets closer to expiring. 

For a more in-depth look at cross-border taxes, read Get Clever About VO Acting In Los Angeles Part III: Cross-Border Taxes.