Journalist and Media Visas

Overview

The media (I) visa is a nonimmigrant visa for representatives of the foreign media temporarily traveling to the United States to engage in their profession while having their home office in a foreign country.  Some procedures and fees under immigration law, relate to policies of the travelers home country, and in turn, the U.S. follows a similar practice, which we call "reciprocity." Procedures for providing media visas to foreign media representatives of a particular country, consider whether the visa applicant's own government grants similar privileges or is reciprocal, to representatives of the media or press from the United States. There are very specific requirements which must be met by applicants for qualify for the media visa, under U.S. immigration law.

Qualifications

To qualify for the media (I) visa applicants must demonstrate that they are properly qualified to be issued a media visa. Media visas are for "representatives of the foreign media," including members of the press, radio, film or print industries, whose activities are essential to the foreign media function, such as reporters, film crews, editors and persons in similar occupations, under U.S. immigration laws, traveling to the U.S. to engage in their profession. 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, to be eligible for the media visa. The consular officer will determine whether or not an activity qualifies for the media visa. Reporting on sports events are usually appropriate for the media visa. Other examples include, but are not limited to, the following media related kinds of activities:

  • Primary employees of foreign information media engaged in filming a news event or documentary.
  • 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 U.S.
  • 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 U.S. 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.
  • Technical industrial information. Employees in the U.S. offices of organizations, which distribute technical industrial information.

Citizens from a country participating in the Visa Waiver Program (VWP), who want to enter the United States temporarily, as representatives of the foreign media traveling to the United States, engaging in their profession as media or journalists, must first obtain a media visa to come to the U.S. They cannot travel without a visa on the Visa Waiver Program, nor can they travel on a visitor (B) visa; and attempting to do so may result in a denial of admission to the U.S. by the Department of Homeland Security, Customs and Border Protection officer at the port of entry. See information below, explaining situations when a visitor visa or Visa Waiver Program can be used.

When Can a Visitor Visa Be Used?
  • To attend a conference or meeting: Media representatives who are going to the U.S. to attend conferences or meetings as a participant and will not report about the meeting, either while in the U.S. or upon their return, can travel on a visitor visa. The distinction in immigration law is whether they will be "engaging in their vocation."
  • Guest speaking, lecturing, engaging in academic activity: When traveling for the purpose of guest speaking, lecturing, or engaging in other usual academic activity, for which they will receive an honorarium from an institution of higher education, a related or affiliated nonprofit entity, a nonprofit research organization, or a Governmental research organization, media representatives will need to travel on a visitor visa to the U.S. However, the speaking activity must last no longer than nine days at a single institution and the speaker cannot have received payment from more than five institutions or organizations for such activities in the last six months.
  • To purchase media equipment: A visitor visa can be used by employees to purchase U.S. media equipment or broadcast rights or take orders for foreign media equipment or broadcast rights, since they are considered ordinary business visitors.
  • Vacation: A foreign media journalist, who does not have a media visa, can take vacation to the U.S. on a visitor visa, and would not need a media visa, as long a he/she would not be reporting on something newsworthy.
Activities that Require a Temporary Worker Visa rather than a Media Visa

While certain activities clearly qualify for the media visa, as they are informational and news gathering in content, many do not. Each application must be considered in the full context of their particular case. In making the determination as to whether or not an activity qualifies for the media visa, the consular officer will focus on whether the activity is essentially informational, and whether it is generally associated with the news gathering process. The activities listed below are shown as examples that would not qualify for a media visa, and would require a temporary worker type visa, such as the H, O, or P visa. For more information about work visas click here or visit the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) web page for temporary nonimmigrant workers.

  • Material for commercial entertainment or advertising purposes - A media visa cannot be used to film material, or for employees who will work on a film, which will be used primarily for commercial entertainment or advertising purposes. A temporary worker visa is required.
  • Proofreaders, librarians, set designers - People involved in associated activities such as proofreaders, librarians, set designers, etc., are not eligible for media visas and may qualify under another classification, such as H, O, or P visas.
  • Stories that are staged events, television and quiz shows - Stories that involve contrived and staged events, even when unscripted, such as reality television shows, and quiz shows are not primarily informational and do not generally involve journalism. Similarly, documentaries involving staged recreations with actors are also not considered informational. Members of the team working on such productions will not qualify for media visa. Television, radio, and film production companies may wish to seek expert counsel from an immigration attorney who specializes in media work for specific advice tailored to the current project.
  • Artistic media content production - Media representatives who will travel to the U.S. in order to participate in the production of artistic media content (in which actors are used) will not qualify for a media visa. Television, radio, and film production companies may wish to seek expert counsel from an immigration attorney who specializes in media work for specific advice tailored to the current project.

Important: Freelance journalists will only be considered for an I visa if they (1) hold a credential issued by a professional journalistic organization, (2) are under contract to a media organization, and (3) will disseminate information or news not primarily intended for commercial entertainment or advertising.

What about still photographers?

Still photographers are permitted to enter the United States with B-1 visas for the purpose of taking photographs, provided that they receive no income from a U.S. source.

Dependents

Spouses or unmarried children under the age of 21 who wish to accompany or join the principal visa holder in the United States for the duration of his/her stay require derivative I visas. Spouses and/or children who do not intend to reside in the United States with the principal visa holder, but visit for vacations only, may be eligible to apply for visitor (B-2) visas.

Spouses and dependents may not work in the United States on a derivative I visa. If seeking employment, the appropriate work visa will be required.

Application Items

Each applicant for an I visa must submit the following:

  • A Nonimmigrant Visa Electronic Application (DS-160) Form. Visit the DS-160 webpage for more information.
  • A passport valid for travel to the United States with a validity date at least six months beyond the applicant's intended period of stay in the United States (unless country-specific agreements provide exemptions). If more than one person is included in the passport, each person desiring a visa must submit an application.
  • One (1) 2x2 photograph.
  • A receipt showing payment of the non-refundable nonimmigrant visa application processing fee (the MRV fee) of US$160, paid in local currency. Please visit this page for information about paying this fee. If the visa is issued, there may be an additional visa issuance reciprocity fee, depending on the applicant's nationality. Please consult the Visa Reciprocity Tables to find out if you must pay a visa issuance reciprocity fee and what the fee amount is.
  • Proof of employment:
    • 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 U.S.
    • 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 U.S. 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 U.S.
    • 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 U.S. and duration of contract.

In addition to these items, every applicant must present an interview appointment letter confirming that they have booked an appointment through this service. Applicants may also bring whatever supporting documents they believe will support the information they will provide to the consular officer.

Supporting documents are only one of many factors a consular officer will consider in your interview. Consular officers look at each application individually and consider professional, social, cultural and other factors. Consular officers may consider the applicant's specific intentions, family situations, and long-range plans and prospects within his or her country of residence. Each case is examined individually and is accorded every consideration under the law.

Caution: Do not present false documents. Fraud or misrepresentation can result in permanent visa ineligibility. If confidentiality is of concern, the applicant should bring the documents to the Embassy in a sealed envelope. The Embassy will not make this information available to anyone and will respect the confidentiality of the information.

Supporting Documents
  • Press card/credentials;
  • Letter from employer indicating the purpose of the trip, the intended length of the mission, the number of years with the employer and of journalism experience.
Supporting Documents for Dependents

If the spouse and/or children apply for visas at a later date, a copy of the principal visa holder's media visa must be presented with the application..

Visit the Department of State's website for more information about journalist and media visas.