The I visa is a temporary visa for all journalists and other media workers who travel to the US for jobs related to the media. This means that they are actively engaged in collecting and disseminating information on current news events in the US. To obtain this visa, they must be employed by a foreign media company or organization based outside the US.
Who are eligible for an I visa?
Reporters, film crews, video tape editors, employees of independent production companies, free-lance journalists working under contract, and persons in similar occupations are eligible for this visa. The media you represent should have an office in your home country; and both print and film activities are included in this category.
Although the production companies are not themselves affiliated with newspaper or electronic news medium, as the companies’ employees are, you may still be accorded an I visa.
Note: Only those who are involved in the newsgathering process are eligible (proofreaders, librarians, or set designers are not eligible).
Who is a “Representative of Foreign Media”?
The legal definition of a “representative of foreign media” includes, but is not limited to
⦁ Radio reporters
⦁ Film crews
⦁ Newspaper editors
⦁ Members of a tourist bureau who are engaged in the broadcasting of informational tourist information about the U.S.
It is important to note that you can apply for a media visa only if your activities are associated with journalism. Other creative occupations such as writers and designers are not eligible for an I visa.
Freelancers can still apply for an I visa if they are working under an employment contract with a professional organization. The same applies to independent reporters and filmmakers.
How do I qualify for an I visa?
To qualify for an I visa, you must:
1. Hold a credential issued by a professional journalistic association
2. Produce a film that will be used by a television station or other media to disseminate information or news
3. Produce a film that will not be used primarily for commercial entertainment or advertising purposes
What privileges do I enjoy on an I visa?
On I visa, you may:
1. Enter the U.S. and work for a foreign press, film, television, or any other media for a temporary period
2. Not be required to maintain a foreign residence
3. Travel in and out of the U.S. or remain in the U.S. continuously for the term of production
4. Apply for dependent visas available for your spouse as well as unmarried dependent children under 21
What are the limitations of an I visa?
The limitations of an I visa are:
1. Tedious process of getting an extension every year
2. Dependents cannot work in the U.S. in dependent status
3. Employment authorization is employer specific
How do I apply for an I visa?
To apply for an I visa, you should present the following documents at an American Consulate near your place of residence along with the required application fee:
1. Completed Form DS-156
2. Passport valid
3. Non-refundable application fee in addition to any reciprocal issuance fee
4. Depending upon your position, a document from your employer is as follows:
a. Staff Journalist: A letter from the employer stating your name, position held in the company, and purpose and length of stay in the U.S.
b. Freelance Journalist under contract to a media organization:A copy of the contract with the organization which gives the following information: name; position held within the company; purpose and length of stay in the U.S. and duration of the contract
c. Media Film Crew:A letter from the employer stating your name, position held within the company, brief description of the program being filmed, and the period required for filming in the U.S.
d. Independent Production Company under contract to media organization:A letter from the organization commissioning the work stating your name, title, and a brief description of the program being filmed, the time required for filming in the U.S., and the duration of the contract.
Where do I apply for an I visa?
You may submit your I visa application to:
1. A USCIS field office in the U.S. if you are in lawful status in the U.S.
2. An American Consulate near your place of residence in your home country if you are outside the U.S.
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, appeal 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 US. The decision whether to let you in the US or not is up to the CBP immigration officers at any US 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 US in the capacities described in the first section. This means that if your work contract states that you will need to be in the US 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 an extension. You must file Form I-539, Application to Extend/Change Nonimmigrant Status to USCIS for any extension. All extensions are given in one year increments and there are no limits to the number of extensions you can request. 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 an H-1B visa. Your employer and you must file for the petition and fulfill the 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 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 do the same to remain in the US.
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