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 traveler's home country and, in turn, the United States 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 media/press representatives from the United States.
There are very specific requirements, dictated by U.S. immigration law, which must be met by applicants in order to qualify for the media visa. To qualify for the media 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 United States 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 United States.
- 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 United States 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.
Freelance journalists will only be considered for an I visa if all of the following criteria are met. The journalist must:
- Hold a credential issued by a professional journalistic organization
- Be under contract to a media organization
- Disseminate information or news not primarily intended for commercial entertainment or advertising
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.
Citizens from a country participating in the Visa Waiver Program who want to enter the United States temporarily as representatives of the foreign media while engaging in their profession as media or journalists, must first obtain a media visa to come to the United States. They cannot travel without a visa on the Visa Waiver Program, nor can they travel on a visitor (type B) visa. 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. The list below describes situations when a visitor visa or the Visa Waiver Program can be used.
Traveling with a Visitor Visa
A visitor visa may be used if your purpose of travel is for the following activities:
Attending a conference or meeting
Media representatives traveling to the United States to attend conferences or meetings as a participant and who 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 or engaging in academic activity
Media representatives must hold a visitor visa when traveling to the United States for the purposes of guest speaking, lecturing, or engaging in other usual academic activity at a related or affiliated nonprofit entity, a nonprofit research organization, a governmental research organization, or at an institution of higher education from which the applicant will receive an honorarium. 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.
Purchasing media equipment
A visitor visa can be used by employees of foreign media outlets to purchase U.S. media equipment or broadcast rights or to take orders for foreign media equipment or broadcast rights, since these activities fall within the scope of those executed by ordinary business visitors.
A foreign media journalist can take vacation to the United States using a visitor visa and does not need a media visa, as long as he/she will not be reporting on newsworthy events.
Traveling with a Temporary Work Visa
While certain activities clearly qualify for the media visa because they are informational and news gathering in content, many do not. Each application is considered within the full context of its particular case. The consular officer focuses on whether the purpose of travel is essentially informational, and whether it is generally associated with the news gathering process, in order to determine if an applicant qualifies for a media visa. The list below describes situations when a temporary worker visa, such as types H, O, or P, are required instead of a type I journalist/media visa.
A temporary work visa may be used if your purpose of travel is for the following activities:
Filming material for commercial entertainment or advertising purposes
A media visa cannot be used by applicants whose purpose of travel to the United States is to film, or work on a film, intended primarily for commercial entertainment or advertising purposes. A temporary worker visa is required.
Production support roels such as proofreaders, librarians and 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.
Producing artistic media content
Media representatives who will travel to the United States 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.
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 the spouse or dependent seeks employment, the appropriate work visa will be required.
To apply for an I visa, you must submit the following:
- A Nonimmigrant Visa Electronic Application (DS-160) Form. Visit the DS-160 webpage for more information about the DS-160.
- A passport valid for travel to the United States with a validity date at least six months beyond your intended period of stay in the United States (unless country-specific agreements provide exemptions). If more than one person is included in your passport, each person desiring a visa must submit an application.
- One (1) 2"x2" (5cmx5cm) photograph. This page has information about the required photo format.
- Proof of employment:
- Staff Journalist: A letter from your employer that gives your name, your position held within the company, and the purpose and length of your stay in the United States.
- Freelance Journalist under contract to a media organization: A copy of the contract with the media organization showing your name, your position held within the company, the duration of contract, and the purpose and length of your stay in the United States.
- Media Film Crew: A letter from your employer showing your name, your position held within company, the title and a brief description of the program being filmed, and the purpose and length of your stay in the United States.
- Independent Production Company under contract to media organization: A letter from the organization commissioning the work showing your name, the title and a brief description of the program being filmed, the duration of the contract, and the period of time required for filming in the United States.
In addition to these items, you must present an interview appointment letter confirming that you booked an appointment through this service. You may also bring whatever supporting documents you believe support the information provided to the consular officer.
How to Apply
Pay the visa application fee.
Complete the Nonimmigrant Visa Electronic Application (DS-160) form.
Schedule your appointment on this web page. You will need three pieces of information in order to schedule your appointment:
- Your passport number
- Your MRV fee payment receipt number
- The ten (10) digit barcode number from your DS-160 confirmation page
Visit the U.S. Embassy/Consulate on the date and time of your visa interview. You will need to bring a printed copy of your appointment letter, your DS-160 confirmation page, one recent photograph, your current passport and all old passports. Applications without all of these items will not be accepted. Journalists traveling for long-term assignment to the United States must pay a $100 reciprocity fee (or the equivalent in Russian Rubles) at the time of the interview if their visa is approved.
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 during adjudication. Consular officers may look at your specific intentions, family situation, and your long-range plans and prospects within your 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 a concern, you should bring your documents to the U.S. Embassy/Consulate in a sealed envelope. The U.S. Embassy/Consulate will not make your information available to anyone and will respect the confidentiality of your information.
You should bring the following documents to your interview. Original documents are always preferred over photocopies and you must bring these documents with you to the interview. Do not fax, email or mail any supporting documents to the U.S. Embassy/Consulate.
- Press card/credentials
- A letter from your employer indicating the purpose of your trip, the intended length of your stay, the number of years you have been with your employer and the number of years of journalism experience you have.
Supporting Documents for Dependents
If your spouse and/or child applies for a visa at a later date, a copy of your media visa must be presented with the application.
For more information about visas for journalists and media workers, visit the Department of State's website.