Members of the Media

The Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) specifically states that representatives of the foreign press, radio, film or other foreign information media traveling to the United States for the purpose of pursuing their profession require “I” classification visas. It is important to note that freelance journalists qualify for the “I” classification visa only if under contract to a media organization. Business as defined by the INA generally entails business activities other than the performance of skilled or unskilled labor. For example: the negotiation of contracts; consultation with business associates; litigation; participation in scientific, educational, professional or business conventions, conferences; or independent research.

Journalists, including photographers, working for a foreign media publication qualify for “I” classification visas. Freelance journalists and photographers will qualify for the “I” classification visa only if they are under contract to a foreign media publication. Where the distinction is not so easily apparent is in the area of television, film and video production. In making the determination as to the appropriate visa classification, it is important to focus on the content of the program.  In general, film projects that report on events, including sports events are essentially informational and usually appropriate “I” classification activities. However reality television shows, contrived and staged events, quiz shows and documentaries involving staged recreations with actors do not qualify for the “I” classification visa. Members of a production team involved in such projects will require the appropriate employment-based (O, P or H) visas.

As much information about the project as you can provide. An important point to note is that consular officers are not always familiar with a television program and, therefore, will not have the requisite knowledge to make a determination as to whether the material being filmed is factual, informational or entertainment. In order to make the determination, the consular officer requires as much relevant information about subject matter of the program as you can provide. They also require a brief job description of all who are involved in the production and the period of time required for filming in the U.S. and source of distribution.

There are many activities that can be described as both informational and entertainment, such as sporting events. A documentary that reports on factual events as they happen will qualify for an “I” classification visa, however, if it is filmed in such a way that it is contrived or staged, than it will fall into the category of entertainment, as will factually based programs which have a game show element to them. When making a determination we focus on two issues: is the activity essentially informational and is it generally associated with journalism. If the answer to both these questions is yes, as in the case of a sporting event, then the “I” classification visa will be appropriate.

A foreign media organization does not cease to be foreign simply because the product will be shown in the United States as well as abroad. Therefore, an employee of a foreign media organization that has entered into partnership with a U.S. organization may be eligible for the “I” classification visa provided the material being filmed is factual or informational and the program will be broadcast abroad as well as in the United States.

The appropriate employment-based (O, P or H) visa will be required regardless of the fact that the program being filmed is factual or informational.

The classification of visa required for travel to the United States is determined by the purpose of the visit, not the profession of the traveler. A classification B-1 (business) visa, or visa free travel under the Visa Waiver Program is appropriate for persons attending a conference. A journalist employed by a media organization or a freelance journalist under contract to a media organization who will be filing a story on his/her return will require the appropriate “I” classification visa.

A freelance journalist will qualify for an “I” classification visa only if he/she is under contract to a media organization.

The determination will be made on a case-by-case basis. Independent production companies that customarily produce informational material for sale to the foreign media may be considered for the “I” classification visa , even if there is no specific contract. When applying for the visas, we strongly recommend that the application include a brief history of previous projects.

No, you should not make that assumption. We have seen a recent trend in which professional journalists are contracted to work on programs that are primarily not informational in content and generally do not involve journalism. We strongly recommend that you contact the Embassy concerning the appropriate visa classification before making irrevocable travel plans.