Early publication online

US visa - your inflexible friend

The Freelance is seeking to update its advice on visas for travel to the US on freelance assignments. See our current advice at www.londonfreelance.org/fl/0410visa.html which is of 2004 vintage. Have you anything to add, or any update based on your own experiences? Please contact the Freelance with your tips.

If you go to do a journalism gig in the US and you enter as a tourist on a visa waiver programme you could potentially get into big trouble for making a false statement on your entry card, but this is at the unpredictable "discretion" of the Homeland Security person at the airport. If you have a letter confirming your commission with a named publication, which includes the duration of the work (ie a deadline), you should get an "I" visa. If you're going on spec, you should get a Business visa. Visits to make "entertainment documentaries" fall into yet another category and require yet another visa.

Our latest intelligence is that waits for (brief) visa interviews once you've made your application are getting shorter as new technology is applied to a longstanding backlog of visa applications that apparently pre-dates 9/11. But any type of visa is still going to involve queueing at a US Embassy, probably a (brief) interview, a fee of at least $45 followed by a wait of up to a week for the visa to arrive. So don't leave it to the last minute. See the US visa website (www.usvisaservice.org) for details, and beware their very expensive enquiry phone line.

And the CIA's newest "threat assessment" specifically mentions people based in Europe, and the need to apply scrutiny to visitors arriving from Europe in the visa waiver queue. Don't say we did'nt warn you!

Our favourite US immigration story involves a Branch member who - returning in brief transit through Miami from Mexico - confused the boxes for "arrested" and "convicted" on the entry form, and spent the night in a crowded cell awaiting deportation - resulting in a lucrative deal with a magazine for a humorous feature recounting his experiences with Homeland Security.

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