Entertainment visa and union consultations

Karen Lo, Partner at Ajuria Lawyers shares her insights regarding entertainment visa and union consultations. Karen Lo


Production companies who want to bring overseas cast and crew members into Australia must first consult the relevant unions as part of the visa process.

Under Schedule 2 paragraph 408.229Aof the Migration Regulations 1994, for the subclass 408 visa to be approved, the unions do not need to “approve” the import of the foreign talent, but they must be consulted.  Under departmental policy, it is expected that the union’s concerns, if any are raised, are addressed in some way before the visa can be granted.

The relevant union depends on the role that the cast or crew will play in the production.

For performers (stage, TV, film) and all crew members supporting these types of productions, the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA) must be consulted.  This includes those paid by the cast direct and not the production company (e.g. managers, personal assistants).  This kind of support staff is still considered to be coming in for work and cannot come in on business visitor visas

For musicians, this is the Musicians Union of Australia (MUA).  Note that any technical/admin staff or other support staff coming in with the Musician, the MUA is not the appropriate union but the MEAA.

For Directors, the relevant union is the Australian Director’s Guild (ADG).

The MEAA in particular does not publish guidelines on when it will “object” to the import of talent, although they often mirror the guidelines for the Foreign Actor Certification Scheme, published by the Department of Communications and the Arts.  This can make it challenging to anticipate the concerns that the MEAA might raise as part of the visa process.

The MEAA often focus on the proportion of Australian citizen or permanent resident talent being used compared to foreign talent.  In particular, if there is funding from government agencies such as Screen Australia or Screen NSW, they may query if Australian actors are given sufficient screen time or lines based on the script.

In one recent example with one of our firm’s clients– the union objected as to how a prominent Australian actor with 9% of script lines could still be considered a “lead” compared to an US actor with 19% of the lines.  This was despite the fact that there are no set definitions of a “lead” versus a “support” role published by the MEAA.  The Department of Communications and the Arts defines lead and support actors as follows:[1]

‘Leading actor’, means protagonist or a production’s central or main role(s).

Supporting actor‘ means an actor with more than a cameo but not a central role.

Neither definition relies on a quantitative assessment of script lines or scenes in the story.

Objections by the MEAA can delay entertainment visa grants as the Department of Home Affairs will not grant the visa unless the concerns have been sufficiently addressed and few case officers are willing to grant the visa without a letter of non-objection from the union.

Given the visa application can often be the last step before a music tour or production schedule kicks off (or even is sometimes only considered after the schedule starts), we recommend that any entertainment clients get immigration advice on union consultation and the visa process as soon as possible if foreign cast and crew is likely to be required – even if who exactly will be cast is not known yet at that point!

[1] https://www.arts.gov.au/what-we-do/screen/filming-australia

Karen Lo is a partner at Ajuria Lawyers, widely regarded as one of Australia’s leading specialist immigration law practices, offering immigration advice and assistance to businesses across all industry sectors, ranging from start-ups to multinationals.   She oversees the entertainment division at the firm helping bring in talent to Australia for indie productions to large productions with hundreds in production crew numbers.  Karen specialises in employer-sponsored work visas and has advised on and managed corporate immigration programs for clients including lobbying the Government and other stakeholders on their behalf to bring about positive change in immigration law and policy. 
Prior to joining Ajuria Lawyers, she worked in the then Department of Immigration and Border Protection, processing complex Partner Visas and worked for the Office of the Migration Agents Registration Authority, delivering sanction decisions against migration agents who had committed serious breaches of the Code of Conduct, including migration fraud. Connect with Karen via email or via LinkedIn