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< Back to current issue of Immigration Daily < Back to current issue of Immigrant's Weekly

I Visas - Foreign Media And Press

by Gregory Siskind, Esq.

The I visa is a nonimmigrant visa for persons entering the United States temporarily who are representatives of the foreign media traveling the U.S. to engage in their profession. The I visa has a few key advantages over other visa categories including:  

  • No need to get USCIS approval before applying at a consulate
  • Admission is granted on a "duration of status" basis and as long as the media representative continues working for the sponsoring employer, no extensions of stay in the US are needed
  • The amount of documentation required to secure I visa status is much less than in other visa categories

 

What qualifies a recipient for an I Visa?

The Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) has specified what qualifications must be met by foreign media to obtain an I visa:

  • The applicant must be engaging in qualifying activities for a media organization having its home office in a foreign country.
  • The activity must be essentially informational, and generally associated with the news gathering process, reporting on actual current events.

   

Who is eligible for an I visa?

The INA categorizes certain individuals of the media who could qualify for an I visa:

·         Members of the media engaged in the production or distribution of film will only qualify for a media visa if the material being filmed will be used to disseminate information or news. Additionally, the primary source and distribution of funding must be outside the United States

·         Primary employees of foreign information media engaged in filming a news event or documentary.

·         Journalists working under contract- Persons holding a credential issued by a professional journalistic organization, if working under contract on a product to be used abroad by an information or cultural medium to disseminate information or news not primarily intended for commercial entertainment or advertising. Please note that a valid employment contract is required.

·         Employees of independent production companies when those employees hold a credential issued by a professional journalistic association.

·         Foreign journalists working for an overseas branch office or subsidiary of a U.S. network, newspaper or other media outlet if the journalist is going to the United States to report on U.S. events solely for a foreign audience.

      Accredited representatives of tourist bureaus, controlled, operated, or subsidized in whole or in part by a foreign government, who engage primarily in disseminating factual tourist information about that country, and who are not entitled to A-2 visa classification. 

How can I apply for an I visa?

Each candidate must submit the following forms at a US consulate:

  • Nonimmigrant Visa Application, Form DS-156
  • Supplemental Nonimmigrant Visa Application, Form DS-157, provides information about your travel plans
  • A passport valid for travel to the United States
  • One 2x2 photograph
  • Proof of Employment – Specific to the actual work involved, the following must be provided:
    • Staff Journalist: A letter from the employer that gives the employees name, position held within the company, and purpose and length of stay in the United States .
    • Freelance Journalist under contract to a media organization: A copy of the contract with the organization, which shows the employees name, position held within the company; purpose and length of stay in the United States and duration of contract.
    • Media Film Crew: a letter from the employer which gives the following information: name; position held within company; title and brief description of the program being filmed and period of time required for filming in the United States .
    • Independent Production Company under contract to media organization: a letter from the organization commissioning the work which gives the following information: name; title and brief description of the program being filmed; period of time required for filming in the United States and duration of contract.
  • Nonimmigrant visa application processing fee

 

Who is not eligible for an I visa?  

  • Those gathering material for commercial entertainment or advertising paper
  • Proofreaders, librarians, set designers – they may qualify for other qualification, such as H, O, P visas.
  • Coverage of stories which include staged events, television, and quiz shows – stories which revolve around staged events, even when unscripted, such as reality television shows or talk shows
  • Artistic media content production

 

I’ve heard I can enter on a visitor visa?  

It used to be much easier for journalists to enter on visitor visas or visa waivers. But today, CBP examiners at the border are routinely denying entry to journalists without proper visas. Officers are, however, given the discretion to grant a one time B status with the warning that all future entries must be on the proper visa. This authority is, of course, discretionary and ideally the journalist will enter on the I visa or another proper work visa.  

 

How many people enter on I status each year?  

Approximately 32,000 including spouses and children.  

 

Who may pay the employee – the foreign entity or the US entity?  

According to the State Department, either can. Whether the US entity must be wholly owned by the foreign entity is not clear.  

 

Do I have to show I have a residence abroad I am maintaining?  

No. You do not need to show you have a residence you do not intend to abandon.  

 

How long will I be able to stay on my I visa?  

You will be admitted for "duration of status" which means that you can stay as long as you work in your approved employment. The fact that one has "duration of status" annotated on their I-94 means that an extension will not be necessary. The same holds true for family members who are also admitted for "duration of status."  

 

Can I change from another visa status in the US to I status?  

Yes, this is possible and can be done using the I-539 change of status petition.  

 

Can my spouse or child work?  

No. However, the Department of Homeland Security will not deem such work to violate status for deportation purposes. Note, however, that unauthorized work might very well make someone ineligible for adjustment of status and that may force an applicant to have to pursue a green card at a consulate abroad.  

Can I change employers or information medium after arriving in I status?  

Not without getting permission of USCIS first. The regulations give no guidance on how this is to be accomplished except that the local office District Director would give such permission.


About The Author

Gregory Siskind, Esq. is a partner in Siskind Susser's Memphis, Tennessee, office. After graduating magna cum laude from Vanderbilt University, he received his Juris Doctorate from the University of Chicago. Mr. Siskind is a member of AILA, a board member of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, and a member of the ABA, where he serves on the LPM Publishing Board as Marketing Vice Chairman. He is the author of several books, including the J Visa Guidebook and The Lawyer's Guide to Marketing on the Internet. Mr. Siskind practices all areas of immigration law, specializing in immigration matters of the health care and technology industries. He can be reached by email at gsiskind@visalaw.com.


The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the opinion of ILW.COM.


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