Foreign Journalist Visa – I Visa

The world stands to benefit when the news is being reported by reporters and journalists with diverse backgrounds and ethnicities. Foreign journalists are allowed to temporarily come to the United States with a foreign journalist visa, or I visa. And while the rules governing foreign reporters working on U.S. soil have become stricter in the days since 9-11, the US government continues to make foreign journalist visas available.

This page was designed to give foreign media workers more information on the I visa, and to help them decide if they should contact an immigration lawyer for assistance. The following topics are covered on this page:

  • Foreign Journalist Visa basics
  • Applying for an I Visa
  • Can My Family Join Me?
  • Consulting an Immigration Attorney

It’s important to remember that while this page discusses certain subjects related to immigration law, it is not intended as a substitute for speaking directly with a licensed and experienced immigration attorney. If you are a member of the foreign media and would like to learn more about your eligibility for a foreign journalist visa or I-visa, contact our office to see how we can help.

Foreign Journalist Visa I-Visa | Immigration Lawyer

Foreign Journalist Visa basics

Though it’s difficult to imagine now, there was a time when foreign journalists could come into the country under the U.S. visa waiver program, holding only a passport. However, as writer Elena Lappin, a British national wrote in the LA Times in 2004, reporters who come to the U.S. without an I Visa can be detained.

Lappin, a world-renowned writer and journalist, detailed a humiliating account of being led through LAX in handcuffs and locked in a small cell overnight under the unblinking eye of a surveillance camera before eventually being allowed to fly home.  According to statistics maintained by Reporters Without Borders, 13 foreign reporters were detained in the U.S. in 2003, 12 of them at LAX. For professionals working under the pressure of constant deadlines, a trip to jail can spell disaster for an assignment. As such, foreign reporters, should always make every effort to cross their T’s and dot their I’s, or in this case, their I-visa.

In order to qualify for a temporary I-visa, a foreign national must be able to show that he or she is a bona fide member of the foreign press, radio, film, or other foreign information media. This can include primary employees of media organization engaged in filming news events and documentaries. Employees of independent production companies are eligible to apply for an I visa if they are credentialed by a professional journalistic association.

Television and other production crew members may also apply if the finished product will be used by a foreign-based media company to disseminate information or news (cannot be used primarily for advertising or commercial purposes). Freelance members of the foreign media are also eligible to apply, however, they must be credentialed and hold a valid contract.

The length of time allotted a foreign journalist visa varies, and is usually determined by a consular officer. In some cases, a Customs and Border Protection Officer will stamp the journalist’s Form I-94 upon arrival to the country. According to US Customs and Immigration Services (USCIS), if the Form I-94 indicates a specific expiration date, and the media representative wishes to stay beyond that date, an extension must be filed. This typically involves the foreign national filing an Application to Extend/Change Nonimmigrant Status (Form I-539), a document that is filed through USCIS.

Applying For an I-Visa

In order to obtain a Foreign Journalist Visa, the petitioner will typically visit a US Embassy or consulate in the country where they reside.  They might also be able to fill out an Online Visa Application (Form DS-160). An interview with a consular officer might be scheduled. It is helpful to hire an immigration attorney to assist in this process. Once a visa is approved, the foreign journalist will be able to travel to a U.S. port of entry where he or she can request permission to enter the U.S.

Can My Family Join Me if I Get an I Visa?

In many cases, yes. Spouses and unmarried children (under the age of 21) are eligible to join foreign journalists under I status. While they are not eligible to obtain work authorization, in some cases they can study without first obtaining F-1 status. If your family doesn’t intend to live with you during your assignment, they may be able to visit under B-2 nonimmigrant status.

Consulting an Immigration Attorney

When attempting to apply for a Foreign Journalist Visa, a member of the media is not required to obtain the services of an immigration attorney. However, the U.S. immigration system is vast and complex. The I Visa application process usually involves multiple federal agencies. It is the job of the immigration attorney to help the client navigate this system and hopefully avoid filing errors that could cause delays for journalists working on a deadline. If you have questions about your eligibility for a Foreign Journalist Visa or how to apply, contact our office for more information.