- Introduction: I Visas for Foreign Media Representatives
- Authorizing Statute
- Eligibility Requirements for I Visas
- Applying for an I Visa
- Maintaining I Status and Extensions of Stay
- Conclusion: I Visas for Foreign Media Representatives
The Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) authorizes the I nonimmigrant visa category for representatives of the foreign information media coming to work as foreign media representatives in the United States. In this article, we will examine the relevant statutes regarding the I-visa category, the rules for demonstrating eligibility for an I-visa with the Department of State (DOS), and the rules for maintaining and extending I status.
The statute authorizing the I nonimmigrant visa category is found in section 101(a)(15)(I) of the INA. In order to qualify as an I-nonimmigrant, an alien must be a bona fide representative of:
- Foreign press;
- Foreign radio;
- Foreign film; or
- Foreign information media.
An alien seeking to enter as an I-nonimmigrant must be seeking entry solely to engage in his or her work for a qualifying foreign media entity.
The statute explicitly authorizes the “spouse and children of such a representative [of foreign media] to accompany or follow to join” the principle I-visa holder in I status.
Under statute, I-nonimmigrants are admitted “upon a basis of reciprocity” with their home country.
An initial application for an I visa is adjudicated by the DOS rather than the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) [see 2 USCIS-PM K.1]. The USCIS is responsible for adjudicating requests by I-nonimmigrants for a change of status [see article] or extensions of stay [jump to section]. Accordingly, we will rely primarily upon the DOS's Foreign Affairs Manual (FAM) at 9 FAM 402.11 [see FAM] to examine eligibility requirements for I visas as well as the application process. Additionally, we will also rely upon the DOS website page for Media Visas [link].1
Purpose of the Program
9 FAM 402.11-2 explains that the I visa category is for “representatives of the foreign media, including members of the press, radio, film, and print industries, traveling temporarily to the United States to work in their profession and engaged in informational or educational media activities, essential to the foreign media function.”
Foreign Media Organization Requirement
9 FAM 402.11-2 explains that the foreign media organization for which the I visa representative works must have its home office in a foreign country. This means that a foreign media worker for a U.S. based media organization would require a different nonimmigrant work visa such as H or L. However, the DOS website explains that a foreign journalist working for an overseas branch office or subsidiary of a U.S. network, newspaper, or other media outlet may qualify for I status if he or she is seeking entry to report on U.S. events solely for a foreign audience.
In 1986, DOS adopted the position that a foreign press organization owned by U.S. shareholders qualifies as foreign media for I visa purposes if it is staffed in large part by non-Americans to collect information for a foreign audience.”2
In 1995, DOS considered whether “an alien who is the bona fide representative of foreign information media having its home office in a foreign country” may be employed by either a wholly-owned subsidiary of the foreign company in the United States or the United States branch office. DOS took the position that such an alien “may be employed by either the branch office or a subsidiary provided that his activities are being conducted principally for the benefit of the foreign media” [see 72 No. 47 Interpreter Releases 1654, 1675 (Dec. 11, 1995)].
Activities Must Be “Informational in Nature”
The I visa category is for media activities that are “informational in nature” and are either associated with the news gathering process and reporting on current events.
The requirement that the media activities be “informational in nature” excludes from I-visa classification those who seek nonimmigrant status to work on “entertainment-oriented materials.”
Definition of “Informational Media Representative”
9 FAM 402.11-3 defines the term “information media representative,” and in so doing, develops the definition in statute found in the INA. As we discussed in the section regarding the statute, an “information media representative” must be the “bona fide representative of the foreign press, radio, film, or other information media.” Furthermore, the foreign media entity's home office must not only be located in a foreign country, but also in a foreign country where the government of which “grants reciprocity for and similar privileges to representatives of such medium having home offices in the United States.” An “information media representative” must be seeking entry solely to engage in his or her work as a foreign information media representative. The FAM specifies that the term “information media representative” also includes “aliens whose activities are essential to the foreign information media function.” It lists as examples:
- Media reporters;
- Media film crews;
- Video tape editors; and
- Persons in similar occupations.
The FAM notes that others associated with such activities, but not directly involved, are not eligible for I status. However, it notes that such persons (e.g., proofreader) may be eligible for a different nonimmigrant visa category such as that found under section 101(a)(15)(P) of the INA.
No Foreign Residence Requirement
Many nonimmigrant visa categories require that an applicant for nonimmigrant classification maintain a residence in a foreign country which he or she has no intention of abandoning. However, 9 FAM 402.11-4 explains that there is no residence abroad requirement for I-visa applicants. However, under section 214(b) of the INA, an I-visa applicant is still required to demonstrate that he or she has nonimmigrant intent.
The spouse and children (unmarried and under the age of 21) of an I-visa foreign media representative are eligible for I status whether they are accompanying or following to join. The USCIS Policy Manual [USCIS-PM K.4] explains that derivatives are, like the principle, classified as “I1.” However, derivative I1s are not authorized for employment.
Eligibility for Journalists Under Contract
The DOS website explains that a journalist working under contract issued by a professional journalist organization is eligible for an I visa so long as he or she is a foreign media representative working on a product to disseminate information or news.
Rules for Film and Video Work
9 FAM 402.11-6 explains the rules for those seeking I-status to engage in film or video work.
Because the I visa category is only available to those seeking to work in media that is “informational in nature,” an alien may only obtain an I visa to work in film or video if he or she is seeking entry to engage in the production or distribution of film and/or video that is informational or educational in nature. It explains that if the alien is seeking entry to engage in making entertainment-oriented materials, he or she must seek O [see article] or P [see article] visa classification.
The FAM explains that under certain circumstances, the employee of an independent production company engaged in the filming of a news event or documentary may also be eligible for I-status. In order to qualify, such an alien employee either:
- Hold a credential issued by a professional journalistic association;
- If such a credential is unavailable from the sending country, the employee must satisfy the definition of “information media representative” in the FAM.
Other Situations Where Alien May Qualify for I Visa
9 FAM 402.11-7 lists other situations in which an alien may qualify for an I Visa.
An accredited representative of a tourist bureau that is controlled, operated, or subsidized in whole or in part by a foreign government may be eligible for an I visa so long as he or she will “engage primarily in disseminating factual tourist information about that country.”
However, the FAM explains that employees or accredited representatives in the United States of trade promotional missions of foreign governments are generally not eligible for I visas because they “are engaged primarily in commercial and/or economic activities.” Furthermore, the FAM notes any foreign government officials who are classifiable in the A visa category must be classified in the A visa category, notwithstanding potential eligibility in a different nonimmigrant classification (see INA 101(a)(15)(A) and 22 C.F.R. 41.22(b)).
Employees in the United States offices of organizations that distribute technical industrial information may be eligible for I visas.
A freelance media worker who is 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 media outlet to disseminate information or news not primarily intended for commercial entertainment or advertising,” may be eligible for an I visa. However, if the freelance media worker does not possess a valid employment contract, he or she will not be eligible for an I visa.
The USCIS Policy Manual [2 USCIS-PM K.3] addresses the situation where an alien seeks an I visa to engage in working on a nonfiction documentary. The PM notes that adjudications in these cases may be difficult because “the distinction between commercial filmmaking for entertainment and genuine news gathering is less clear” than it once was. The Policy Manual instructs USCIS officers to consider whether the intended use of the documentary “is journalistic, informational, or educational, as opposed to entertainment.” It also instructs USCIS officers to consider the foreign distribution of the film or video footage and the timeliness of the project relative to the subject event.
I Visa in Lieu of E
22 C.F.R. 41.52(b) states that an alien who is qualified for I nonimmigrant status shall be classified as an I nonimmigrant even if he or she is also classifiable as an E nonimmigrant [see article].
B Visa or Visa Waiver Program in Lieu of I
The DOS website lists situations in which a B visa may be more appropriate than an I visa.
An only seeking entry to attend a conference or meeting may be classifiable as B1 [see article] or B2 [see article]. The DOS website notes that a B visa will only be appropriate if the alien will not report on the conference or meeting upon returning to his or her home country.
B status may also be appropriate if the alien is seeking entry to receive an honorarium from:
- An institution of higher education;
- A related or affiliated nonprofit entity;
- A nonprofit research organization; or
- A governmental research organization.
The DOS states that the speaking activity must not last more than nine days at a single institution and the alien may not have received payment from the institution within the previous six months.
Finally, an alien may take a vacation on B2 status so long as he or she does not work or report during the trip. “Work” includes remote work [see section].
The above points are generally applicable to Visa Waiver Program entrants as well.
Information Media Representatives Proceeding to the United Nations
Under 22 C.F.R. 41.71(b), C2 status is available to certain information media representatives seeking admission “solely in transit to the United Nations.” However, 9 FAM 402.3-6(E) states that an alien who is classifiable as C2 may be issued an I visa instead if he or she is otherwise qualified and pays the required fee. To learn about information media representatives at the United Nations on C2 status, please see our full article [see article].
In order to apply for an I visa, the alien will be required to complete the online DS-160. Subsequently, the applicant will likely have to schedule an interview at his or her U.S. Embassy or Consulate. The applicant will also be required to pay a non-refundable application fee. Applicants seeking to renew an I visa that expired within the previous 12 months (or within 48 months at certain U.S. Embassies and Consulates) may be eligible to have the interview requirement waived [see article]. However, note that an alien who was previously in I1 status as a derivative would not be eligible to have the interview requirement waived if he or she is seeking I1 status as a foreign media representative.
The DOS website notes that in addition to the general documentary requirements for a visa interview, a journalist working under contract or as a freelance worker to a foreign media organization will need to present a valid contract of employment. If the applicant is the employee of an independent production company, he or she will likely be required to present a credential issued by a professional journalistic association (see Eligibility Requirements).
If an alien is maintaining a different lawful nonimmigrant status, he or she may be eligible to apply for a change of status to I status with the USCIS. The requirements are explained in the USCIS Policy Manual [2 USCIS-PM K.5].
The application for change of status is filed on the Form I-539. The applicant must demonstrate that he or she:
- Meets the requirements for I status;
- Is admissible to the United States;
- Has not violated any terms or conditions of his or her nonimmigrant status.
Under 8 C.F.R. 214.2(i), I visa holders may be authorized admission for the duration of employment. The regulation states that admission in I status “constitutes an agreement by the alien not to change the information medium or his or her employer until he or she obtains to do so from the [USCIS] district director having jurisdiction over his or her residence.”
The USCIS website states that Customs and Border Protection (CBP) generally admit I nonimmigrants for duration of status [link].3 If an I nonimmigrant is admitted for duration of status, he or she will maintain I status so long as he or she only engages in activities for which the I status was authorized (meaning working in the same information medium with the same employer). If an I nonimmigrant is admitted for duration of status, he or she will not be subject to the visa overstay provisions under section 222(g) [see article] unless there is a finding of unauthorized stay by an immigration judge.4 However, the CBP may also specify a specific end date on the Form I-94. If an I nonimmigrant wishes to stay in the United States beyond the expiration date on the Form I-94, he or she will be required to file a Form I-539 with the USCIS to apply for an extension of stay.
The USCIS Policy Manual [2 USCIS-PM K.2] If an I nonimmigrant seeks to remain in I status but change employers and/or the medium in which he or she works, the nonimmigrant will need to file a Form I-539 with the USCIS seeking permission for the change.
The USCIS Policy Manual [2 USCIS-PM K.4] explains that I1 dependents may attend school in the United States without changing to F1 status. However, I1 dependents are not authorized to engage in employment in the United States while in I1 status.
The I visa category allows certain members of the foreign press to work in the United States covering events for a foreign audience. Before seeking an I visa, an applicant is well-advised to consult with an experienced immigration attorney. An experienced immigration attorney will be able to determine, based upon the specific situation, whether the I visa category is appropriate or whether a different nonimmigrant classification should be sought.
- https://travel.state.gov/content/visas/en/employment/media.html (retrieved on Jun. 4, 2016)
- Letter, Odom, Deputy Chief, Visa Services, V-101(a)(15)(i) (Jan. 9, 1986), description from I. Kurzban, Kurzban's Immigration Law Sourcebook: A Comprehensive Outline and Reference Tool (AILA 14th Ed. 2014) 1022
- https://www.uscis.gov/working-united-states/temporary-workers/i-representatives-foreign-media (Retrieved on Jun. 4, 2016)
- Cable, DOS (99-State-105097) (June 7, 1999), reprinted in 76 No. 24 Interpreter Releases 977-89 (June 28, 1999)
Resources and Materials:
Kurzban, Ira J. Kurzban's Immigration Law Sourcebook: A Comprehensive Outline and Reference Tool. 14th ed. Washington D.C.: AILA Publications, 2014. 1022-23, Print. Treatises & Primers.