By Dev B. Viswanath, Esq.
The ‘I’ visa is a nonimmigrant visa for foreign media individuals to travel to the U.S. To be eligible for an I-visa, an individual must:
- Represent a foreign information media outlet
- Come to the U.S. to only take part in their profession
- Must have a home office in their foreign country
A media visa is for “representatives of the foreign media” which are members of the press, film, radio or print industries. In light of online news outlets, journalists from these sources are also included. In order to be eligible for an ‘I’ visa, an individual must show that they are a bona fide representative of foreign media whose activities are important to the functions of their organization.
It is under the discretion of the consular officer at the U.S. embassy or consular post to determine if an activity qualifies for an ‘I’ visa. This is ‘not’ a dual intent visa, although there are situations where someone may come to the US on an ‘I’ visa and eventually need to apply for permanent residence.
An individual can apply for an ‘I’ visa at any American consular post that has jurisdiction over their place of permanent residence. Foreign media representatives cannot travel to the U.S. and take part in their profession if they do not have an I visa, even if they are a citizen of a country that is part of the U.S. Visa Waiver Program (VWP-ESTA). If a foreign individual tries to travel to the U.S without the correct visa, they may be denied admission by the Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) at the port of entry. In some cases, a foreign media representative may be eligible to travel to the U.S. on a visitor visa but it is not common and substantive work is not allowed.
Once the media representative arrives at a port of entry, a Customs and Border Protection Officer will decide if they can be admitted to the U.S. The Officer will review and stamp Form I-94 which will state their authorized period of stay. Admission with an ‘I’ nonimmigrant visa is usually for the duration of status (D/S) and no application is required for an extension of stay as long as the visa holder continues working for the same employer.
If the CBP gives a foreign individual a specific time authorized period of stay, and they wish to stay longer, they must file an Application to Extend/Change Nonimmigrant Status. The same must also be filed if an individual would like to request a change of status from another nonimmigrant status to an ‘I’ nonimmigrant status, or if an I-visa holder would like to request a change of employer or information medium.
Any dependents of ‘I’ nonimmigrants, spouse and children under the age of 21, may be eligible for an ‘I’ nonimmigrant visa as well. Dependents may not work with an ‘I’ nonimmigrant visa but they can study in the U.S. without applying for an F-1 nonimmigrant visa.