October 26, 2020
Reposted from the SPJ.org website: https://www.spj.org/news.asp?REF=1765
INDIANAPOLIS — The Society of Professional Journalists denounces in the strongest terms the changes proposed by the Department of Homeland Security to the visa process for foreign journalists wishing to work in the United States. We see this move as an effort to limit the number of foreign journalists being allowed in the U.S. and a way to intimidate those journalists who are already here.
Under the proposed changes, journalists — who must get a media (I) visa — will only be allowed to stay in the U.S. a maximum of 240 days. While the visa holder can request an extension, the maximum allowed is another 240 days. The new DHS proposal does not say anything about further extensions being allowed.
Even if more than one extension is allowed, the proposal drastically changes the existing system. Under current law, foreign journalists may remain in the U.S. as long as they do not change employers. The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services information on foreign journalists currently states: “no application for extension of stay is required to be filed as long as the media representative continues working for the same employer in the same information medium.”
The proposed extension application would require DHS to review “the content that the foreign information media representative is covering in the United States” to determine eligibility, which could lead to government interference in their journalism.
“The proposed changes by the DHS would restrict the ability of independent foreign news organizations from reporting news within the U.S. and could lead to reprisals affecting U.S. journalists in other countries,” SPJ National President Matthew T. Hall said. “Both outcomes are unacceptable.”
While the initial statement does not mention the cost of applying for an extension, we can assume there will be a processing fee. Such fees could reach thousands of dollars required from news organizations for each of their foreign employees, considering some visa status renewal fees have cost as much as $600 every three months.
For a journalist assigned to the U.S. for three years, that would mean four to five renewal applications. Given the backlog in USCIS already for other routine extensions — some of which have taken up to six months — this new rule puts an undue burden on the already overworked USCIS employees and puts foreign journalists in a regular state of uncertainty when it comes to visa status renewals.
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