What is the I Visa?

Employment-Based Immigration

The I nonimmigrant visa is designed to allow representatives of the foreign media organization—the press, websites, radio, film, and other forms of foreign information media—to enter the United States to work temporarily. In a typical year, the U.S. issues between 11,000 and 13,000 I visas. The largest contingent of I visa media representatives come from the United Kingdom Japan, France, Germany, and Mexico.

What Qualifies You for an I Visa?

You might be eligible for a U.S. visa if you represent a foreign media outlet, work at a home office in a foreign country, and plan to enter the U.S. temporarily for the sole purpose of performing informational and educational media duties.

Typical occupations that are eligible for I visas include foreign media reporters, members of the press, journalists working under contract, film crew members and editors, and employees of independent production companies, among other occupations. Your duties must involve news gathering and report on current events.

Travel To The United States

Under most U.S. immigration statuses, you interview for your visa with a U.S. consular officer overseas, at least if you applied for the status from outside of the United States. For an I visa, however, you are required to travel to the United States and interview at your port of entry (LA International Airport, for example). If you pass the interview at your port of entry, your Form I-94 will be stamped with a notation indicating your authorized period of stay.

Visa Validity vs. Period of Stay

Your I visa, issued at a U.S. embassy or consulate abroad, will probably be valid for one year. That doesn’t necessarily mean you can live in the U.S. for one year—it means you have one year after the date that your visa is issued to travel to the United States. Once you enter the U.S., your time in the United States will depend on your period of stay as indicated on the Form I-94 you receive when you enter

Media visa holders are generally granted a period of stay called “duration of status.” This is an indefinite period of time that expires only when you are no longer working for the foreign media company that sponsored you. If your Form I-94 specifies a particular date, however, you will need to leave the U.S. by this date (or make alternative visa arrangements). You will not be required to travel outside the U.S. during this time to maintain your status.

Your Family

You may bring your spouse and unmarried children under the age of 21 with you to the United States on I visas. Each of your family members is required to apply separately for an I visa. They will be required to prove (i) you received an I visa and (ii) they are your close family members (marriage certificates, birth certificates, and passports should be sufficient to prove a family relationship).

Application Process: Change of Status from Inside the United States

Applying for I status is easier if you apply from the United States.

  • You must file Form I-539, Application to Extend/Change Nonimmigrant Status along with supporting documentation.
  • You must pay a $370 filing fee and an $85 biometric services fee (your company is expected to pay these amounts for you).
  • You will need to supply evidence of your current media visa status, including a letter and a contract from your company that describes your position and duties.
  • You must be invalid nonimmigrant visa status at the time you submit your visa application.

Application Process: Obtaining I Status from Outside the United States

You may apply for a media visa from abroad if you complete the following steps:

  • You must submit Form DS-160 online and pay a filing fee of $160. This can be done on the US State Department website. Nationals of certain countries must pay an additional application fee. You must also submit a color photo of yourself that meets certain specifications.
  • Print the confirmation page and keep it along with your payment receipt.
  • Schedule an interview appointment with the U.S. embassy or a U.S. consulate in the country where you permanently reside.
  • Prepare supporting documentation including your passport, the confirmation page for your online visa application form, your payment receipt, your press credentials, and proof of your employment (such as an employment contract).
  • Bring all of the foregoing documents with you to the interview. If your interview is successful, your passport will be stamped with an I visa and returned to you (not necessarily the same day).

Attorney Tips for Applicants

Following are some tips you need to remember to avoid getting into trouble with your visa:
Do not attempt to enter the U.S. under the visa waiver program or on a visitor visa if you intend to engage in professional media activities while in the United States.
The I media visa does not allow you to engage in commercial activities while in the US, including involvement with entertainment or advertising. In fact, any activity that does not rely on information gathering and reporting on events that occur in the United States will not be considered appropriate activities on an I visa.
Ancillary employees who are not involved in the newsgathering process are not eligible for I media visa status. Such people include proofreaders, set designers, etc.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Which activities are acceptable if I enter the U.S. on a visitor visa or a visa waiver?

If your sole purpose for entering the U.S. is to perform one of the following activities, you will not need to obtain an I visa.

  • Taking still photographs, as long as any payment you receive comes from abroad.
  • Attending a conference or similar meeting, if you will not report on the meeting. Reporting on the meeting after you return to your home abroad, however, will retroactively violate your immigration status.
  • Giving a lecture, even if you are paid, as long as (i) your speaking engagement lasts no longer than nine days at any particular institution and (ii) you haven’t received such payment from more than five other institutions over the last 180 days.
  • Engaging in academic activity at an institute of higher education (such as a university), a nonprofit research institute, or an educational institute.
  • Performing research.

Naturally, it is fine for you to take a vacation to the United States, even if you are a member of a foreign news outlet, as long as it is not a working vacation.

Can I extend my I visa in the United States?

If you wish to remain in the U.S. beyond the date specified on Form I-94 (or beyond your employment relationship with your sponsor, if your period of stay is listed as “duration of status”), you will need to file Form I-539 along with applicable fees and supporting documents. As long as you don’t change jobs, you can remain in the U.S. indefinitely without leaving to get a new visa.

You will need to leave the U.S. if you wish to revalidate your visa. You can only revalidate your visa at a U.S. embassy or consulate abroad.

Is the I visa a dual intent visa?

No, it is not–you are expected to intend to return to your home country after your I visa expires. In fact, U.S. immigration authorities can deny your visa if they believe that you have “immigrant intent.” In practice, it is sometimes possible to get permanent residence after entering the U.S. in I visa status.

Contact Us Today to Get Started

If you seek an I visa, an experienced immigration lawyer can greatly increase your chances of success, without the hassle of having to handle every obstacle on your own. Contact the Herman Legal Group, LLC at 1-216-696-6170, or simply complete our online contact form to schedule a consultation with us. We look forward to hearing from you!

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