Representatives of the foreign media traveling on assignment to the United States require I visas. They are not eligible to travel visa free under the Visa Waiver Program or enter the United States on B-1 business visas. Those who attempt to do so may be denied admission to the United States by immigration authorities at the port of entry.
Members of the media engaged in the production or distribution of films, including employees of independent production companies, will qualify for I visas only if the material being filmed will be used to disseminate information or news.
The definition of the term “representative of the foreign media” includes, but is not limited to, members of the press, radio, or film whose activities are essential to the foreign media function, such as reporters, film crews, editors and persons in similar occupations.
It is important to note that only those whose activities are generally associated with journalism qualify for the I visa. People involved in associated activities such as proofreaders, librarians, set designers, etc., will require O, P or H visas.
While certain activities clearly qualify for I visas as they are informational in content, many do not and must be considered in the full context of their particular case. In making the determination as to whether or not an activity qualifies, we focus on two issues: is the activity essentially informational, and is it generally associated with the news gathering process.
As a general rule, stories that report on events, including sports events, are essentially informational and are usually appropriate I visa activities. 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 I visas. They will require the appropriate employment-based (O, P or H) visas.
If you are a freelance journalist, you will only be considered for the I visa if you are under contract to a media organization. At the time you apply for the visa, you should furnish a letter from the organization with the following information: name, purpose and length of stay in the U.S., and duration of contract.
Journalists Working for an American Media Organization
If you are working for an overseas branch of a U.S. network, newspaper or other media outlet, you may apply for an I visa provided you are coming to the United States solely to report on U.S. news events for a foreign audience, and you will continue to be paid by the foreign based office.
If you are to replace or augment an American journalist reporting on events in the United States for a U.S. audience, then the appropriate employment-based (O or H) visa will be required.
Independent Production Companies
If you are a members of an Independent Production Company you can be considered for an I visa if the content of the material you are filming is informational. At the time you apply for the visa, you will be required to furnish a letter from your employer which provides 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.
Projects of a Commercial or Entertainment Value
If the film project is of commercial or entertainment value, the appropriate employment-based O, P or H visa will be required and a petition. Form I-129 must be filed and approved with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) prior to you applying for the visa. The final determination on the appropriate classification of visa will be made by the USCIS at the time the petition is filed.