Who can apply for the I Visa?
The I Visa is also referred to as the I Media Visa or I Visa for Members of the Foreign Media, Press, and Radio.
Every person who is a representative of foreign media and wants to come to the U.S. to carry out, professional activities for their organisation, needs to apply for the I Visa. Even if you currently hold another type of U.S. visa, you will not be allowed to legally work for a foreign media company without first obtaining the I Visa.
In order to be eligible for the I Visa, the activities of the organisation you act on behalf of need to be informational in nature and serve primarily to report on news and events. To be eligible for the I Visa, you must meet the following conditions:
- You represent a foreign media company, be it press, radio, film, or any other information media.
- The sole purpose of your visit to the U.S. is to work in this profession.
- The organisation you represent has a home office abroad.
Examples of occupations that fall under this category and can apply for the I Visa include but are not limited to radio broadcasters, journalists, film crews, or editors.
If you engage in creative activities that are not associated with journalism, for example, if you are a writer or an entertainer, you will not be able to apply for the I Visa. If you are a freelancer, you might be eligible for the I Visa if you have a contract with a professional media organisation.
During the application process, a representative of a U.S. Embassy will determine whether your profession makes you eligible for the I Visa.
When should I apply for the I Visa?
Once you become an I Visa holder, you will be able to obtain content in the U.S. and report back to your organisation based in another country. The activities you engage in the U.S., however, need to be designed for your home audience. Certain purposes that require you to have the I Visa include:
- Filming news events or a documentary
- Filming any other material that is informative or educational in nature.
- Working as a journalist provided that your credentials are issued by a foreign association.
- Reporting on U.S. news and events as long as the content is intended for a foreign audience.
If you are thinking of coming to the U.S. to engage in one of these or in similar activities, you will need to apply for the I Visa. It is important to note that the primary source of funding for them must be outside the U.S. and that the projects you will be working on cannot be of commercial or entertainment value.
If you would like to film a live event such as a sport performance, or a live entertainment show, you will not be eligible for the I Visa.
In some cases, it is enough to apply for a visitor visa instead of the I Visa.
The below is a list of travel purposes for when this visa can be used:
- Attending a conference, convention, or seminar, provided that you will not report back on the event attended to a media organisation after your return from the U.S.
- Being a guest speaker at a conference, or giving a lecture at an educational institution as long as the speaking activity is shorter than nine days. That includes events for which you get payment, but you cannot receive honorarium for them from more than five organisations in the last six months.
- Come for vacation as long as the trip does not involve gathering information and reporting on news and events.
- Undertaking independent research provided that you do not use it to create content for a media organisation in your home country.
- Take photographs as long as you do not receive payment for them from a U.S. source.
How to apply for the I Visa?
If you meet the eligibility criteria, the first step of the application is to complete a DS-160 Form. You can fill it in online but you need to print the confirmation page that you will later take to your in-person interview. Once you submit the form, you have to schedule an appointment at the U.S. Embassy or Consulate in the country where you are based. Then you will need to gather the following documentation:
- A Valid passport
- A proof of employment, for example, a contract signed by you and your employer
- Details of what your role in the U.S. will be
- Details of other representatives of your organisation who are also coming to the U.S. to work on the project.
- Proof of your credentials issued by a foreign journalistic association
- Evidence that you intend to return to your home country once the project is finished, for example, a return flight ticket
- The confirmation page of your visa application
- A passport size photograph if you fail to upload one online
- A fee payment receipt.
Before you attend the interview make sure you prepare all the required evidence. A failure to include even one of the documents can delay your application.
What to expect during the interview for the I Visa?
Interviews are generally required for applicants between 14 and 80 years old, but the officials can request an interview with any candidate. The interview must be scheduled at the U.S. Embassy or Consulate in your home country. Getting an interview abroad, outside the country of your permanent residence can be challenging. How long you will have to wait for your appointment varies depending on the location and time of the year. Nevertheless, it is recommended to apply for your visa early to avoid problems.
During the interview, an official working for the U.S. Embassy or Consulate will ask you questions about the purpose of your visit, your health, your criminal record, and any past visits to the U.S. They might also ask you about a proof of your qualifications, such as past published articles, work contracts, or journalist accreditation. The goal of it is to verify whether the goal of a tour visit actually is to report for a foreign media organization.
It is important that you do not hide any information. If you lie during the interview and the official finds out, you will be denied the I Visa.
How long is the I Visa valid for?
When you and your organisation apply to become I Visa holders, you need to specify how long the work activity will last. If your application is successful, you will be issued the I Visa valid for the duration of the assignment. If your work contract requires you to stay in the U.S. for six months, your visa will be valid for six months.
When you are in the U.S. on the I Visa you will not be able to leave and re-enter the country, and you must leave the U.S. before or on the day of your visa expiration date.
If your visa is about to expire but you still have not finished your work assignment, you can request an extension. To do so, you have to file Form I-539, Application to Extend/Change Non immigrant Status and submit it to USCIS. Any extension you receive cannot be longer than one year. You can get an unlimited number of extensions but you need to be able to prove that you will still be working on collecting information for your home organisation.
What is the application fee?
If you want to apply for the I Visa, you need to be ready to pay the $160 fee. This amount is non-refundable, no matter the outcome of your application. In addition to that, you might have to pay additional fees, for example, for visa issuance or for submitting the application to the embassy or Consulate. These costs vary depending on where you are applying from. Based on your home country’s relationship with the U.S. residents of some countries have to pay higher fees than others. Make sure you keep the receipts for all the fees as you need to include them in your application.
What is the processing time of the I Visa?
Generally, the processing time of the I Visa is not long. Most applications are processed within 10 days from submitting it. Nevertheless, if the U.S. Embassy or Consulate where you are applying is busier than usual, the processing time can be longer.
Once the U.S. Embassy or Consulate finishes processing the application you will receive a letter informing you about the outcome. If your application is successful you will be granted the I Visa and you can start preparing for your trip. If it is denied, however, you can appeal the decision and apply again.
It is impossible to predict whether your application will be accepted or not. That is why you should apply in advance to have enough time to submit the application again in case it initially is rejected.
Can I bring dependents with me on the I Visa?
If you receive the I Visa, you will be allowed to bring your dependents with you to the U.S. Dependents include your spouse and your unmarried children who are younger than 21 years of age. If you want to bring them with you, however, they need to apply for a separate visa. They can submit their application at the same time as you or after you receive your I Visa.
To be able to come with you, your dependents need to submit a proof of a relationship. That can be a birth certificate for the children or a marriage certificate for the spouse. If your dependents start their application after you have received your I Visa, they have to submit a copy of it.
If their application is successful, their visa will be issued for the duration of your I Visa. When your dependents come to the U.S. with you, they will not be able to work but they can enrol in academic study at a non-public school. If your dependents want to come with you for holiday purposes, they might apply for a B2 Tourist Visitor Visa instead.
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All representatives of foreign media companies who come to the US to obtain content and report on U.S. news and events to foreign audiences must apply for the I Visa.
If you work as a journalist, radio broadcaster, filmmaker, a member of a film crew, or a newspaper editor, and you want to come to the U.S. to temporarily work in this profession, you need to apply for the I Visa.
If you are unsure as to whether you need an I Visa, talk to our immigration lawyers. They will assess your eligibility for the I Visa and will help you apply for it.
Individuals applying for the I Visa have to pay $160. This fee is non-refundable even if their application is unsuccessful. In addition to that, they might have to pay additional costs for having the visa issued by an US Embassy or Consulate. These fees depend on their home country, however.