Citizens from other countries (sometimes called aliens, non-US citizens, or foreign nationals) come to the US everyday and for all sorts of reasons. Some come to study, others come to do business. Generally, a foreign national needs a visa to get into the US. When a foreign national is just here to visit or for short term work, he needs a non-immigrant or temporary visa, and there are several types available.
One type of non-immigrant visa is the media (I) visa. It's for certain non-US citizens who are members of the foreign media, such as members of the press and radio. There are many limitations and restrictions on this visa that you should be familiar with if you're a member of the foreign media and intend on coming to the US.
Who Qualifies for the Visa?
In order to qualify for a media visa, you need to be:
- A representative of the foreign media, like a member of the press, radio, print or certain film or movie industries. The media organization for which you work must have its home office in a foreign country
- Performing a job that's absolutely critical to the function or purpose of the foreign media, like a reporter, film crew member, or editor
- Traveling to the US to engage in your profession as a member of the foreign media
Generally, you have to be engaged in gathering and reporting news or information. For example, you could be reporting on a US presidential election, sporting event, or some natural disaster on US soil. Also, filming a documentary (not using actors) in the US qualifies as a media activity.
The visa is usually granted for the duration of your project or work in the US. In other words, you can stay for as long as you're gathering and reporting news for a foreign media outlet. You don't need to apply for extensions.
What doesn't qualify? The focus is on whether you're engaged in an informational, news gathering activity. Some examples of activities or jobs that don't qualify for the media (I) visa include:
- Making a film or movie that will be used for commercial entertainment or advertising
- Making a documentary that involves recreating events with the use of actors or actresses
- Working as a proofreader, librarian or set designer
- Filming television quiz shows or "reality TV" shows
- Paid speaking or lecturing engagements, such as college commencement speeches or speaking at a professional convention
Generally, if you want to enter the US for any of these activities, you'll need a a different type of visa.
Media Visa and the Visa Waiver Program (VWP)
The VWP allows citizens of certain countries to come to the US for tourism and sightseeing, or for short-term business purposes, and stay for up to 90 days without a visa. Some of these countries are Australia, Ireland, Germany and the United Kingdom. The US Department of State has a complete listing of countries in the VWP.
However, even if you're a citizen of a VWP country, you still need a media (I) visa to enter the US if you're coming to the US to engage in your profession as a member of the foreign media.
What about Your Family?
Your spouse, and your children who are under 21 years old, can come with you and remain with you for the duration of your stay here. If they don't want to live in the US with you, but rather plan on visiting you periodically, such as for vacations or holidays, they will need to get a visitor's visa. Or, they can travel without a visa if your native country is in the VWP.
The media (I) visa doesn't grant your spouse and children the right to work in the US. If they plan on living in the US with you and they want to work, they'll need to get appropriate visas. However, your spouse and children can go to school while they're in the US, and they don't need to get a special student visa.
Getting the Visa
To get a media (I) visa, you need to complete the electronic version (e-form) of the Nonimmigrant Visa Application, Form DS-156. You also need to complete Supplemental Nonimmigrant Visa Application, Form DS-157, if you're between the ages of 16 and 45 years old. You give details about your travel plans in this form.
At the time you apply for the visa, you'll need to have a passport for travel to the US that's valid for at least six months after the date you intend to leave the US. You'll also need proof of your employment. If you're:
- A freelance journalist working under an employment contract with a foreign media outlet, you need a copy of the employment contract, and it must show your name, your job description, the duration of the contract, why you need to travel to the US and how long you're expected to stay
- A staff journalist, you need a letter from your employer that gives your name, your job title and the amount of time you're expected to be in the US
- A film crew member you need a letter from your employer that gives your name, your job title or description, the title and a brief description of what's being filmed and the amount of time needed to film in the US
- From an independent production company working with a foreign media outlet, you need a letter from the media outlet that provides your name, the duration of your employment contract, your job title or description, the title and a brief description of what's being filmed and the amount of time needed to film in the US
Generally, you file your application for a media (I) visa at the US Embassy or Consulate in your country.
Questions for Your Attorney
- Can I apply for permanent US residency ("green card") while I'm in the US on a media visa?
- I was just informed that I'm being laid off by my employer, a foreign newspaper. Is there any way I can stay in the US? What if I take a job with another foreign newspaper that competes with my old newspaper in my home country?
- I want to make a political documentary in the US. How long will it take to get a media visa?