The 411 on Moving to the U.K.

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The list of British actors who have made a name for themselves in America is a lengthy one, and while the U.S. is a stronghold for many entertainment markets, actors, casting directors, and producers alike have been talking about the British Takeover. So perhaps it’s time some of our own headed across the pond.

To make the arrival as smooth as possible, the No. 1 concern should be getting all paperwork in order. “The devil’s in the details,” says London-based immigration lawyer and expert Robert Sparks, who has been helping actors and dancers obtain visas since 2001.

Whether coming over as a visitor—which doesn’t allow any income earning outside of a specific list of 44 permit-free performance festivals (e.g., Glastonbury, Leeds Festival, Brighton Fringe) and requires leaving the country within 90 days—or with a Tier 5 Temporary Worker Creative visa, it helps to be knowledgeable. You’ll need passports and, if applying for the latter, all documentation outlining who your U.K. sponsor is, why you’re in the country and for how long, and what you plan to do while there (including press and publicity events) to make it past border patrol. In addition to the standard passport photo, applicants must also provide bank statements that prove they have at least £945 (about $1,500) in savings available for 90 days before application.

“There is a Creative Sector Code of Practice within the immigration rules that sets out the category of performer and the evidence that they need to show in order to stand any chance of obtaining a visa,” Sparks says of those who require a U.K. sponsor able to make a case for an American actor over a British one in any given role.

Those who fall into this category include ballet dancers, dancers of other disciplines, theater and opera performers, film and TV performers working for less than a month, performers with international status, those qualified for “highly specialist or unusual” roles, performers who are also producers and are tied to the financial aspect of the project, performers who are commercially important, those taking part in approved international co-productions, and featured guests on entertainment programs.

Operating under a visa eligibility point system “meant to codify and simplify the immigration rules,” according to Sparks, it’s now that much more essential to secure a sponsor within your field of work (worth 30 points) and ensure all required paperwork (worth 10 points) is accounted for.

“It used to be the case that it was more knockabout, and you could be a lot less defined in the application if you’d made one 10 years ago,” says Sparks of the visa process. “But it’s a different regime now to what it was pre-2008 and pre–points-based. You can no longer assume any knowledge. You’ve got to build your case and not assume they’ll take a leap of faith and let you into the country.”

Sparks notes that while consulates are always great resources, don’t depend on a representative to ensure your ducks are in a row. Do your own research and be aware.

“You’ve got to take [the visa application process] against the backdrop that what the government is trying to do is make sure that jobs are available for British or European actors,” adds Sparks. “You’ve got to justify why you deserve that visa over someone in the European economic system.”

It can be a daunting and arduous task, but with a culturally rich city, incredible theaters, festivals, and training programs in your new backyard, it will be worth the effort.

Still planning your big move? Check out our audition listings in the meantime!