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US Media Visa

Do you work in media and need to travel to the US for an assignment? You may need to apply for the I visa for media professionals.

US Media Visa

US Media Visa

Journalists and media representatives traveling to the United States to engage in their profession will need to have been granted a US media visa, known as the I visa.

The media visa is for representatives of the foreign media. This includes professionals working in broadcast, radio, film or print industries in roles that are essential to the foreign media function, such as journalists, photographers, film crews, editors and bloggers.

If you are traveling to the US to perform media work, you will not be permitted to enter visa-free under the Visa Waiver Program or on a B1 business visitor visa.

Attempting to gain entry without the required permission can result in you being refused admission by border officials. Not only will this impact your ability to carry out your planned work, the refusal will be recorded on your immigration record and may impact future US travel and immigration applications.

The eligibility criteria for the I visa aren’t, however, clear-cut. Requirements for the type of permissible content and the skills and role of the applicant will be scrutinised as part of the application process. It is advisable to seek guidance on your circumstances, to ensure the I visa is the most appropriate for your needs and to compile and submit a petition that effectively presents your eligibility.


NNU Immigration are here to help!

Applying for the I visa requires substantial consideration ahead of filing the petition. Will the media content satisfy the requirements? Do you have the necessary supporting documentation?

As dedicated US immigration attorneys, NNU Immigration bring extensive experience in advising media companies and professionals with their US travel needs. We represent clients from across the sector, including media agencies, financial publishing houses and news photographers through to independent production studios.

With exceptional knowledge and insight into US visa and immigration protocol, we help media professionals with all aspects of the I visa application, advising on the US media visa eligibility requirements and the documentation to be compiled to support your application.

US immigration policy is undergoing a period of considerable upheaval; we can advise on the prevailing impact of any changes in US visa rules that may impact the entry routes available to you.

Contact our US media visa experts

For advice on any aspect of the US Media visa application, contact our US immigration attorneys.

Contact our US media visa experts

For advice on any aspect of the US Media visa application, contact our US immigration attorneys. 

Contact our media visa experts

For advice on any aspect of the US media visa application process, contact our US immigration attorneys. 


Media Visa Frequently Asked Questions

Who needs an I visa for media work in the USA?

Generally, any citizen of a foreign country who wishes to enter the United States for the purpose of work, even if only for a short time, must first obtain a nonimmigrant visa. This includes representatives of the foreign media, including members of the press, radio, film and other foreign information media, who will be temporarily travelling to the US to engage in activities in their profession deemed essential to the foreign media function.

Commonly known as an I (representatives of foreign media) visa, applicants must be coming to the USA to engage solely in this profession, where activities to be undertaken must be for a media organisation with its home office located in a foreign country. These activities must be informational in nature and generally associated with the news-gathering process, where only those whose activities are generally associated with journalism will qualify, such as reporters, film crews, editors and persons in similar occupations.

For anyone involved in associated activities such as proofreaders, librarians, set designers and the like, and for those engaged in creative activities that are not associated with journalism, such as writers or entertainers, they will require a different visa-type.

Importantly, representatives of the foreign media travelling on assignment to the USA are not eligible to travel visa-free under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP). Equally, they are not allowed to enter the United States on a B-1 business visitor visa, where those who attempt to do so may be denied admission by immigration authorities at a US port of entry.


Who is classed as a ‘media worker’?

To be eligible for the I visa, you must represent a foreign media outlet and normally be based in a foreign country.

The definition of “representative of the foreign media” includes, but is not limited to, members of the press, radio, film and bloggers where those roles are deemed to be essential to the operation of the media, such as production staff and journalists but would not extend to, say, set designers.

If you are a freelance journalist not under contract to a media organization, then you will not be eligible for an I visa. Foreign media representatives visiting the USA to work as a guest speaker or lecturer are also not covered by the I visa.

While the I visa extends to a broad range of workers in the media sector, there are strict restrictions on permissible activity and purpose of visit while on the media visa.

For example, members of the media engaged in the production or distribution of film, including employees of independent production companies, will qualify for “I” classification visas only if the content qualifies under the requirements of the visa, such as material that is informational or educational.

It is important to note that only those whose activities are generally associated with journalism qualify for the “I” classification visa. People involved in associated activities such as proofreaders, librarians, set designers, etc. will require permission under an alternative visa route such as the O, P or H visas.


Which activities come under the I Media Visa?

Travel purposes to the United States which will require an I visa could include:

  • an employee of foreign information media, or an independent production company, with a credential issued by an overseas professional journalistic association, engaged in filming a news event or a documentary in the USA
  • a member of the foreign media engaged in either the production or distribution of film, if the material being filmed will be used to disseminate information/news, or is educational in nature, although the primary source of funding must be from outside the USA
  • a journalist working under contract, with a credential issued by an overseas professional journalistic association, if working on a product to disseminate information/news that is not primarily intended for commercial entertainment or for advertising purposes
  • a foreign journalist travelling to the USA to report on events solely intended for a foreign audience, and the journalist works for an overseas media outlet with its home office in a foreign country and will be paid by that overseas outlet
  • an accredited representative of a tourist bureau which is controlled, operated or subsidised by a foreign government, who primarily engages in disseminating factual tourist information about that country, and who is not eligible for an A-2 visa as either a foreign government official or an employee
  • an employee of an organisation that distributes technical industrial information who will work in the US office of that overseas organisation.


What type of content comes under the I visa?

While certain activities clearly qualify for “I” classification visa as they are informational in content, many do not and must be considered in the full context of their particular case. In making the determination as to whether or not an activity qualifies for the “I” classification visa, we would focus on two issues:

  1. Is the activity essentially informational?
  2. Is it generally associated with the newsgathering process?

As a general rule, stories that report on real events are informational, provided the filming has some editorial or journalistic content, rather than simply filming a live event for general broadcast.

In contrast, stories that involve contrived and staged events, even if unscripted, such as reality TV or quiz shows, are not primarily informational and will not generally be classed as involving journalism. Similarly, documentaries involving staged recreations with actors will also not be considered informational, where a temporary worker visa will instead be required for any project of commercial or entertainment value.

Members of the team working on such productions will not qualify for “I” classification visas. They will require the appropriate employment-based (O, P or H) visas.


Do freelance journalists and bloggers need a Media visa?

If you are a freelance journalist you will only be considered for the “I” visa if you are under contract to a media organization.

At the time you apply for the visa you will have to provide furnish a letter from the organization describing the nature and duration of the contract.

If the film project is of commercial or entertainment value, the appropriate employment-based O, P or H visa will be required and a petition, form I-129 must be filed and approved with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) prior to you applying for the visa.


Do content creators and influencers need an I visa?

Online content creators and social media influencers have become a powerful marketing tool for businesses across the globe, giving those with the ability to attract a significant online following with the leverage to earn a lucrative income from anywhere in the world. However, even if undertaking work online, or only coming to the USA for a very short paid engagement, content creators and influencers will still usually need a visa to do this.

There are a number of potential visa options available to content creators and influencers to work in the United States, potentially including the I visa, where US immigration law has evolved to accommodate this category of applicant. As such, at least in theory, the I visa may allow (social) media representatives to enter the United States to disseminate information through blogs or digital platforms, provided that content is newsworthy and informational in nature. However, the I visa cannot be used solely for commercial or entertainment purposes, and can only include activities with a journalistic angle, such as a piece covering fashion trends or a fashion event for a foreign audience, provided the individual in question will not be promoting any particular brand or product.

However, given the relatively new nature of content creators and influencers as a category of US visa applicant, specialist advice should always be sought.

In some cases, applicants from one of over 40 qualifying VWP-countries may be able to take advantage of up to 90 days visa-free travel, during which time they can engage in certain unpaid business-related activities, including posting online to keep their profiles active.

However, where a visa is needed, either because an individual is looking to stay longer than 90 days in the USA or to undertake paid work, in addition to the I (media) visa, other potential visa options for content creators and influencers could include:

  • a B-1 visa: also known as the business visitor visa, the B-1 visa is for foreign nationals not eligible for visa-free travel, where successful visa-holders will be able to stay for up to 6 months to engage in certain unpaid business-related activities, including speaking engagements, provided no remuneration is received from a US source, other than incidental expenses. However, visa-holders must not undertake any paid employment or performances during their stay in the USA. Equally, managing a digital business or working remotely from the United States for an overseas employer is not permissible.
  • an O-1B visa: also known as the talent visa, the O-1B visa is for those with extraordinary ability in a specialist field, including the arts, demonstrated through sustained national or international acclaim. US immigration law has shifted here to accommodate content creators and influencers, provided they can show evidence of brand ambassadorship and a high online-following consistently earning them elevated views, likes or shares, where the applicant will be undertaking engagements in the USA in their area of expertise.


What are the I visa requirements?

The eligibility criteria for obtaining an I visa include:

  • that you are a genuine foreign journalist or other representative of the foreign media and that you can provide proof of this
  • that your role is essential to the functions of the foreign media that you represent, with supporting evidence
  • that the media related activities you will be involved in during your time in the USA are eligible for an I visa. This generally means that the activities are informational or news-related, or both, may be eligible whereas work relating solely to entertainment or advertising would not.
  • that there is no reason why you should be prevented from entering the USA, such as involvement in terrorist activities or past violation of immigration laws


How to apply for a US media visa

The first step of the I visa application process is to complete the Online Non-immigrant Visa Application form DS-160. The online application system will require that your upload a photo in the required format.

The applicant must also pay a fee of $185, where applicable, and schedule an interview at any US Embassy or Consulate with jurisdiction over their place of permanent residence.

Once you have completed the online application process, print off the application form confirmation page for your own reference and to provide at your interview.

You should now visit the US Visa Information and Appointment Services website to create an account, pay the machine-readable visa (MRV) application fee (keep a copy of your payment receipt) and schedule your interview.

When completing the application for an I visa, the applicant must be able to demonstrate that they are a bona fide representative of the foreign media whose activities are essential to the functions of that overseas organisation, where the consular officer reviewing the application and conducting the interview will determine whether an activity qualifies for “I” classification. While certain activities clearly qualify, as I visas are informational in content, many do not and must be considered in the context of the particular case, where the consular officer making the decision will focus on two issues: whether or not the activity is essentially informational and if it is generally associated with the news-gathering process.

Shortly before or during the I visa interview, the applicant will be required to provide digital fingerprint scans as part of the application process. During their interview, they will also be asked a number of questions to verify the information contained in their application and to ensure that their stated intentions are genuine, including that they intend to return to their country of residence or depart the USA at the end of their authorised stay.

The consular officer will then determine whether the applicant is qualified to receive an I visa, although further administrative processing may sometimes be needed. If approved for an I visa, this will be returned to the successful visa-holder in their passport, typically via courier service a few short days after attending their Embassy or Consulate interview.


What supporting documents are needed when applying for an I visa?

When applying for an I visa, there are various documents that must be submitted in support of an application, including a valid passport for travel to the United States, where this must be valid for at least 6 months beyond the proposed period of stay. The applicant must also provide clear evidence of their role as a media representative, together with any relevant credentials and documentary proof of the projects to be undertaken in the USA.

Applicants should always review the instructions for how to apply for an I visa on the website of the US Embassy or Consulate where they intend to apply, including any biographical and administrative documents that they will be required to take with them to their interview. This will typically include a copy of the visa application confirmation page and application fee payment receipt, if required to pay prior to attending any interview.

Additional documents may also be requested by the consular officer during interview to establish if an applicant qualifies for “I” classification.


What happens during the media visa interview?

Applicants will need to arrange a visa interview at a US consular post abroad.

Interview procedures vary widely among consular posts so it is important to carefully follow the instructions provided for the post where your I interview will be held.

You will need to bring documentation with you to support your application. The specific documents to take will depend on your circumstances, but as a minimum typically include:

  • Your passport, which must be suitable for travel to the USA and valid for a minimum of 6 months after you plan to leave the USA.
  • The confirmation page from your DS-160 form
  • Your application fee receipt, if you were required to pay this before the interview
  • A printed photo
  • Documents outlining the purpose of your trip to the USA and your activities whilst there
  • Communication from your employer or hiring organisation for the purpose of the trip, including a valid contract of employment
  • Communications with the US organisation that you will be visiting
  • Where relevant, a credential issued by a professional journalistic association

On the day of your appointment, arrive no later than 30 minutes before your interview time. Arriving late may mean that your appointment is cancelled, however, you won’t be admitted into the Embassy or Consulate more than 30 minutes before your interview.

You will generally be at the Embassy or Consulate for between 2 to 3 hours.

Your biometric information will be taken either before or during your interview. This includes your fingerprints, photograph and signature.

Take your supporting documents with you, including the confirmation page from your DS-160 form and a copy of your appointment instruction page. You will need this last document to be allowed access to the Embassy or Consulate.

The purpose of the interview is to ensure that you are eligible for an I visa by examining your DS-160 form and supporting documents, and by asking you relevant questions. The consular officer will ask you questions about your experience, the publication or media organization sponsoring you for the visa, and your proposed US employment terms.

After your interview, you may be asked to submit additional documents, or your application may enter into further administrative processing.

You will be notified of the decision made on your application at your interview. Provided your application is approved the consular officer will retain your passport for visa stamping. Your passport, with embossed I visa stamp, will be returned to you within approximately one week of your interview. Once received you are permitted to travel to the US to work in I status in line with the assignment detailed in your supporting documentation.


How how long does an application for the I visa take?

The length of time it takes to apply for an I visa will depend on the availability of interview appointments with the US Embassy or Consulate with jurisdiction to review the application, where this can vary between a few days to several weeks. More information can again be found on the website of the US Embassy or Consulate where the applicant intends to apply.


What documents should you carry with you when travelling to the USA under an I visa?

An I visa will allow the successful visa-holder to travel to a US port of entry, typically an airport, and request permission to enter the United States. However, a visa does not guarantee entry, where US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials have authority to permit or deny admission to the USA. It is therefore important for an I visa-holder to carry documentation with them when travelling to the United States that is sufficient to satisfy CBP officers that they are seeking to enter the US for the purpose sought.

For example, for a journalist working under contract, or working freelance for a foreign media organisation, they should have a valid contract of employment or contract for services, together with any credentials issued by a professional journalistic association. They should also have evidence of the project(s) to be undertaken in the USA, including proof of filming locations, as well as start and end dates. Equally, for an employee of an independent production company, they too will need to have in their possession evidence of the project(s) to be undertaken and their contractual commitment to do that work.


How long does an I visa last once in the United States?

When applying for an I visa, the applicant will need to specify how long the work activity in the United States will last. If their application is successful, they should be issued an I visa valid for the duration of that assignment. However, at a US port of entry, admission as an I nonimmigrant will generally be authorised by the CBP officer for the duration of status, where no application for an extension of stay will be needed, provided the foreign media representative continues working for the same employer in the same information medium.

However, where the CBP official has specified an end date on the individual’s electronic Form I-94 (Arrival/Departure Record), it is still possible to apply to extend the period of authorised stay in “I” status by filing a Form I-539 (Application to Extend/Change Nonimmigrant Status) and submitting any required evidence and applicable fees.


Can dependants join you on an I visa in the United States?

If a spouse, partner and/or children under the age of 21 wish to accompany or join the principal visa applicant or primary visa-holder for the duration of their authorised stay, they may be eligible to apply for a derivative visa in “I” classification.

Any spouse and children will not be eligible to work with I status, although they can study in the United States without applying for an F-1 nonimmigrant student visa. If a spouse and any children only plan to visit for a holiday, where they do not intend to reside with the principal applicant or primary visa-holder in the United States, they may travel with a B-2 nonimmigrant visa instead or even travel without a visa if they qualify under the VWP.


Need specialist advice? Speak to our experts.

Need specialist advice? Speak to our experts.