To support the media and spreading of news all around the world, the U.S has made a specific visa for this purpose. The visa allows journalists and those who work in the information or media sector to complete their work while in the U.S. This visa is the I visa.
This article will go through what the I visa is, the eligibility criteria, application process, and other details for it.
What is the I visa?
The I visa is for all journalists and other media workers who go to the U.S with the purpose of doing jobs related to the media. This means that they are actively engaged in collecting and disseminating information on current news events in the U.S. However, they must be employed in a media company or organization which is based outside the U.S. So the organization must be foreign, and the media workers cannot get an I visa to work for a U.S company.
Most media related jobs qualify for the I visa; however, to make it more specific, the U.S has defined who can get this visa, such as:
- A person who works in an independent production company with foreign journalistic credentials. This person must be filming events related to current news or a documentary.
- A person who is producing or distributing film which is related to current news information or is educational. The film must be financed by a company outside the U.S.
- Journalists with a contract from a foreign media or journalistic company. These journalists must be collecting news that are used to inform and not for commercial purposes.
- Journalists going to the U.S to collect news information about an event happening in the U.S. The news information must be targeted to a foreign audience.
- A representative of a bureau of tourism who has valid accreditation. The representative’s company must be partially funded by a foreign government, and the purpose of the visit must be to collect touristic information about the U.S.
- A person who works in a company which distributes technical industrial information. This person can then work in the U.S offices of that company.
- Journalistic freelancers who have a valid work contract from a foreign media company. The freelancer must be engaged in any of the above mentioned work, provided that they work to collect and disseminate information.
Those workers who do not qualify under these categories must get a different type of visa, instead of the I visa. Occupations such as a librarian, proofreader, or set designer must apply for temporary U.S work visas such as H visa, O visa, or P visa.
Additionally, some occupations will require a visitor visa (B-1 visa or B-2 visa) to complete their work, such as:
- Attending conferences, meetings, seminars, or conventions. You must not be in the role of the reporter for such events, but only a participant.
- You will lecture, speak, or engage in an academic activity in a higher education institution. This activity must not last longer than 9 days for one institution, and your payment must not be from more than 5 institutions.
- You will be on vacation or take a trip throughout the U.S and not report on this trip
- You will conduct independent research
- You will take photographs and not be paid for them from a U.S company
Also, even though citizens of some countries are part of the Visa Waiver Program, all media workers who will go to the U.S for informational purposes, must obtain an I visa. This means that if you try to enter the U.S through the Visa Waiver Program and conduct activities related to the I visa, you will be denied entry and returned to your home country.
Those who have the I visa must only be engaged in informational activities and gather news, however, they are also allowed to enroll in some university courses. The I visa holder cannot enroll in a full academic program, and will also not be allowed to work for a U.S company.
What are the requirements of the I visa?
The I visa does not have many requirements. The only criteria that applicants must fulfill is related to their occupation. This means that they must be working in a position as described above. So you must be a representative of a foreign media organization and must be gathering news. Other than that, there are no other requirements to get the I visa.
How to apply for the I visa?
The application procedure for the I visa is similar to all U.S non-immigrant visas. You will have to apply to your nearest U.S Embassy office. The following steps are necessary:
Fill in Form DS-160
The form is found online in any U.S Embassy webpage. You need to fill in your personal information, purpose of visit, and anything else required. At the end, when you submit the form, you will be given a confirmation page and code, which you will need later on.
Submit a photograph which fulfills the Photo Requirements
You can find out more about photo requirements here
Pay the application fee
This fee for the I visa is $160 and is non-refundable no matter what the decision of the U.S Embassy is. Besides the application fee, you might be required to pay additional fees such as reciprocity or visa issuance fees. These fees depend on your home country and its relationship with the U.S. When you have paid all the necessary fees, make sure to save your receipts as you will need them later.
Schedule your visa interview
All visa applicants between 14 and 79 years old must attend a visa interview with the U.S Embassy. To have this interview, you must first schedule it. Since there might be a heavy workload in the U.S Embassy, it is important to schedule this interview as soon as possible to avoid long wait times. After you have made your appointment, you will get a visa appointment letter, which you will attach to your documents on the day of your interview.
Prepare your document file
You will need a file with the necessary documents for your I visa, which will support your request for this visa. You will bring that file with you to the interview. The file must contain the following documents:
- Your valid passport
- Your Form DS-160 confirmation page
- Receipts which prove you have paid all applicable fees
- Your visa appointment letter
- Letter from your employer describing the purpose of your stay in the U.S which must fall into the I visa activities. In addition, the letter should detail your length of stay, and duration of your work contract, as well as your personal information.
- Your qualifications which ensure you fall into the I visa category:
- Work contracts
- Journalistic accreditations
- Press card
- Past published articles
- Medical documents proving you are in good health
- Documents proving you have no past criminal record
Attend your visa interview – During the interview, a U.S Embassy official will ask you questions regarding your character, your health, any past criminal offenses, past U.S visas you have had, your purpose of visit, and other related questions. You must answer everything truthfully and not try to hide any details. The official will have almost made a decision at the end of your interview, but you will have to wait for the processing to get your answer.
What is the I visa processing time?
After you go through the interview process, you will have to wait for your visa to be processed. Generally, the I visa is processed within 10 days after your application. However, this time varies depending on the workload of the Embassy. You will receive a letter letting you know whether you got the visa or not.
If your visa was approved, then you can start making arrangements for your visit. If it was denied, you can ask for clarifications, repeal the decision, or apply again. However, even if you get the visa, you have no guarantee that you will be allowed to go into the U.S. The decision whether to let you in the U.S or not is up to the immigration officers at any U.S port of entry.
How long is the I visa valid?
The I visa is issued for the period that you will have to work in the U.S in the capacities described in the first section. This means that if your work contract states that you will need to be in the U.S as a journalist for 6 months, then your visa will be valid for only 6 months. You must continue to maintain your status and prove that you are working to qualify for the I visa.
If your visa is nearing expiration, but you still have work to do, you can request extensions. You must file Form I-539, Application to Extend/Change Nonimmigrant Status to USCIS for any extensions. All extensions are given in a period of one year and there are no limits to the number of extensions you can get. You must prove that you are working on collecting and disseminating news information and your work contract should also be extended.
Additionally, you can also change your status from an I visa to a different type of visa. For example, if you find an employer willing to sponsor you, you can get the H-1B visa. Your employer and you must file for the petition and fulfill the necessary requirements.
Can my dependents accompany me with an I visa?
You are allowed to bring your dependents when you have an I visa. Dependents are your spouse and your unmarried children under 21 years old. They can apply at the same time as you or after you get your visa.
To apply they must submit proof of a relationship, such as a marriage certificate and other marriage ceremony documents for the spouse, and valid birth certificates for the children. Also, if the dependents apply after you have gotten your visa, they must also submit a copy of your valid I visa.
With an I visa, your dependents will be allowed to enroll in academic study, but cannot work any jobs. Also, if you extend your visa or change your status, your dependents must also do the same to remain in the U.S.