If you are a journalist or a member of the press seeking to work in the United States, then you likely require an I visa. This is a temporary non-immigrant visa that allows foreign media to work in the United States as a representative of foreign media.
One of the main rules for the I visa is that you need to be employed with a media organization based outside the United States. You cannot get an I visa if you want to work as a media employee for a U.S. company.
The I visa covers a broad range of media-related professions, including everything from film producers to independent freelance journalists. The United States has specific rules governing who qualifies for an I visa and who does not.
Who Needs an I Visa?
Generally, any member of the foreign media will need an I visa to work in the United States. If you fall into any of the categories below, then you need an I visa to film, research, and report from the United States:
Most Journalists and Some Filmmakers: If you work for an independent production company and have foreign journalist credentials, then you may need an I visa if you are filming current events or shooting a documentary in the United States.
Distributors: If you are producing or distributing film related to current events or for educational purposes, and the film is financed by a company outside the United States, then you may need an I visa.
Journalists Under Contract: Journalists who have a contract from a foreign media company or similar organization may require an I visa when collecting informative news (including current events) but not shooting for commercial purposes.
Journalists Reporting on Current Events: If you are traveling to the United States to report current events to a foreign audience, then you may require an I visa.
Tourist Bureau Representatives: If you are a representative of a bureau of tourism with valid accreditation in your country, then you may require an I visa. To qualify for an I visa under this category, your organization must be at least partially funded by the foreign government, and the purpose of your visit to the United States must be to collect tourism-related information.
Technical Distributors: If you work for a company distributing technical industry videos across the United States, then you may be able to apply for an I visa and work for the U.S. offices of that company.
Journalist Freelancers: If you are a journalist working freelance with a valid work contract from a foreign media company, then you may need an I visa to visit the United States, assuming you’re visiting the country to collect and report information.
Any workers seeking to enter the United States for purposes not listed above may require a traditional work visa or a separate type of visa.
Certain media workers may also have specialized visa categories, including H visas (general work visas), O visas (arts and education specialists), and P visas (for athletes, artists, and entertainers).
Additionally, if you are from a Visa Waiver Program country, then you will require an I visa if you plan to engage in any of the above activities while visiting the United States. You are not permitted to work in the United States while visiting with an ESTA, and the above activities are considered to be “work” in the eyes of U.S. immigration authorities.
You May Not Require an I Visa
Just because you work for a foreign media organization does not necessarily mean you require an I visa. Depending on the purposes of your visit to the United States, you might be okay with a traditional B-1 visa (for business) or B-2 visa (for general tourism).
You may not require an I visa if visiting the United States for any of the following reasons:
- You are lecturing, speaking, or engaging in academic activity at a college, university, or similar institution; your activity cannot last longer than 9 days and you cannot receive payment from more than 5 institutions
- You are attending conferences, meetings, seminars, or conventions in the United States without reporting on the events (you are only participating)
- You are a foreign media representative covering the United Nations
- You are taking a vacation or traveling through the United States on holiday without working or reporting on the trip
- You are conducting independent research
- You are taking photographs but will not receive payment for those photographs from a U.S. company
In all of the above situations, you may only require a B-1 or B-2 visa and it is unlikely that you require an I visa.
I Visa Requirements
The I visa has surprisingly lax requirements. Generally, if you are a member of the foreign press in your stated occupation, then you qualify for an I visa. There are no specific requirements governing licensing or other credentials.
How to Apply for an I Visa
Applying for an I visa involves a similar process to applying for any non-immigrant visa. You will need to complete this process whether you’re from a Visa Waiver Program country or not.
Step 1) Complete Form DS-160: DS-160 is an online form available through your local U.S. embassy’s website. Complete the form to receive a confirmation page and barcode, which you will need to move onto the next step.
Step 2) Pay the I Visa Application Fee: The I visa comes with an application fee of $160, similar to other visas to enter the United States.
Step 3) Schedule your Interview: I visa applicants between 14 and 79 years of age need to attend an in-person interview at a U.S. embassy. The interview is designed to verify information on your application and ensure you are not a threat to the United States.
Step 4) Prepare your Documents: You may need to submit certain documents prior to arriving at a U.S. embassy for your interview. Required documents can include all of the following:
- Valid passport (valid for at least 6 months beyond your planned date of departure from the United States)
- Form DS-160 confirmation page
- Visa appointment confirmation page
- Receipt proving you paid the $160 I visa application fee
- Letter from your employer describing your reason for visiting the United States, the items which you plan on reporting, the compensation you will receive, and the duration of your work contract
- Documents, licenses, or other qualifications proving you are a legitimate journalist or member of the media; documents can include a press card, work contracts, journalistic accreditation’s, or information about previously-published articles
- Medical documents verifying that you are in good health
- Police documents verifying that you do not have a criminal record
Step 5) Complete the Interview: Arrive at the U.S. embassy at your appointment time to begin the interview. The interviewer will ask you several questions about your visit to the United States. Answer truthfully.
How Long Does It Take to Process an I Visa?
The I visa is one of the faster visas for U.S. immigration authorities to process. Generally, it can be processed in about 1 to 3 weeks. However, processing times may take longer depending on the workload of your local U.S. embassy.
How Long Does My I Visa Last?
The I visa will last for as long as it takes to complete your job in the United States. U.S. immigration authorities typically award an I visa for the length of your stated work contract in the United States. Generally, if your contract does not have a defined length, then your visa will be valid for one year.
If your visa is nearing its expiration date but you intend to remain in the United States, then you need to apply for an extension. Submit form I-539, Application to Extend/Change Non-Immigrant Status to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
I visa extensions are commonly given for a period of one year, although you may have to prove that you are working for a foreign media organization during this time.
Can I Get a Green Card with an I Visa?
An I visa is not considered a path to a green card. Instead, an I visa allows you to temporarily work in the United States as a member of the foreign media or press.
However, there are certain situations where an I visa holder can change his or her status. You may be hired by a U.S. company, for example, who is willing to sponsor you for an H-1B visa, which can be a path to a green card and permanent residency.
In other cases, you might marry a U.S. citizen or get sponsored by a family member. Although the I visa isn’t typically a path to permanent residency, there are situations where you may change your immigration status.
Can I Bring Dependents to the United States On An I Visa?
The I visa allows you to bring a dependent to the United States with you for the duration of your contract in America.
Your dependents must fall into one of the following two categories:
- Spouse of an I visa holder
- Unmarried children under age 21 of an I visa holder
Spouses and children can apply for something called a derivative I visa or a dependent I visa. Typically, any dependents will apply for a derivative I visa at the same time you apply for an I visa. If your dependents apply for a dependent visa at a future date, then your dependents will need to provide proof of your I visa.
Dependents visiting the United States under a dependent I visa can study in the United State without requiring an ordinary F-1 student visa. However, you are not permitted to work in the United States under an I dependent visa.