The I visa (foreign news media) allows employees working in the field of media, press, and radio to reside temporarily in the United States for journalistic purposes in the course of carrying out their jobs.
Journalists and correspondents who work for a newspaper in Germany, for example, or a U.S. media office can travel to the United States under an I visa for employment-related purposes to cover events in the United States for publications located outside of the U.S.
Journalists or (freelance) media staff, however, are not generally required to have an I visa. It is not whether someone works strictly as a journalist, but rather the specific purpose of the stay that decides whether media representatives need a visa and, if so, which one.
The applicant maintains their permanent residence outside the U.S. and intends only to travel to the U.S. for a temporary stay. Proof of sufficient financial resources to allow stay in the U.S. also plays a considerable role in the examination of the application, particularly if the applicant is self-employed.
In addition, applicants must demonstrate that they work for a foreign media company. This is usually done by presenting an employment contract that confirms that the person works as a reporter or editor, for example. Even freelance journalists or freelancers working for production companies can qualify for an I visa if they work for a media company outside the United States, they are on assignment in the United States under contract, and they can prove that they have received regular fees in the past. Usually the U.S. consulate also requires applicants to present their press pass.
The journalist must be exclusively engaged in the dissemination and collection of news and information while in the U.S. This means that the collected information (for example, the reportage and footage) must only be of a documentary character and intended for publication outside the United States.
Persons or companies that are producing commercial projects (advertising photography, etc.) and projects in the entertainment industry (docusoaps, entertainment programs, etc.) are excluded from the I visa category. Applicants seeking to engage in these activities must apply for an appropriate work visa (O, P or H), which provides a work permit from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).
Applicants must remain employed/under contract with a media company located outside the United States during the entire stay. The visa holder must return to their original workplace after the stay, and they may not accept any fees from a U.S. company or entity. It is therefore essential to maintain a connection with a media company outside the United States.
The project cannot mostly be financed by an entity in the United States.
Usually I visas are granted for a period of 1 to 5 years (depending on the project) and allow a maximum residence status in the United States of up to 365 days per entry (several times consecutively or at a time).
Therefore, representatives of media companies who make frequent trips to the U.S. for journalistic purposes do not have to constantly reapply for the visa.
Applicants must appear in person for an interview at one of the authorized U.S. consulates. In addition to the general application documents, applicants must submit documents pertaining to employment, the purpose of their entry, and other records confirming their intention to return to their country of origin. The application is usually processed at the U.S. consulate in the applicant’s country of residence.
Spouses and unmarried children under 21 years of age receive a derivative I visa lasting the same period as the principal applicant’s I visa. Once children reach the American age of majority, they must change their non-immigrant visa status or leave the country.
Family members are not allowed to accept employment. Persons with an I status are not allowed to apply for a general work permit (Employment Authorization Document EAD). However, I visa holders can attend a public/private educational institution.
Accompanying relatives of I visa holders can travel up to 90 days without a visa in the United States if their nationality permits visa free travel.