The I visa is probably the most underrated visa available to foreign nationals working in film and media. The I visa allows representatives of foreign press, radio, film, or other foreign information media to enter the United States in connection with the news gathering process, as well as informational or educational documentary films or a television series.
Most often we see this visa held by journalists and reporters, but it also includes members of a media or documentary film crew, videotape editors, employees of independent production companies, or anyone essential to the foreign information media function. The category includes online, print, and film activities. The foreign media organization for which the I visa applicant is representing should have a home office outside the United States.
Typically, the I visa has been used by individuals with foreign press credentials to enter the U.S. to report for their foreign media outlet. However, this visa is very versatile since it can also be used for documentary filmmakers.
I visas are normally valid for five years, however, the length of time can vary depending on the Consulate. If the I visa holder leaves the foreign media organization that sponsored them, the I visa will no longer be valid as it is specific to their work for the sponsoring foreign media organization.
When entering U.S. territory with an I visa, border officials will issue a form I-94 and authorize your entry for the duration of your visa’s status. If your Form I-94 indicates a shorter duration, you need not apply for an extension, as long as you continue working for the same media employer.
I visas are usually issued for a period of one to five years, however, if after that period is up, you wish to extend the visa, you can do so by filling out and submitting a form I-539 Application to Extend/Change Nonimmigrant Status. Furthermore, a Form I-539 must also be filled out and submitted if you need to request a change of employer. If doing so, you will need to present evidence of your current employment status and a letter from the new employer describing your position in their media organization.
If you intend to enter the United States with an I visa but will be bringing your spouse and children, they may also be eligible to apply for I visas. Note that for children to be eligible, they must be under the age of 21. If they are applying later than you, to follow-to-join, they will need a copy of your I visa for their applications. Spouses and children may not work in the United States while possessing a joint I visa, but they may attend U.S. schools without needing an F1 student visa.
For family members wishing to come for a short-term visit, it is recommended that they apply for a B-2 nonimmigrant visa instead. The I visa is intended only for media employees and their families who will be residing long-term in the United States. Family wishing to come to visit you may also qualify for the U.S. Visa Waiver Program, and if so, they can enter the country without a visa. Foreign media representatives do not qualify for this program.
One more thing to note about the I visa; though mostly used by journalists, documentary filmmakers, and members of foreign new teams, I visas are also available for foreign nationals representing a tourist bureau. The bureau must be owned and operated by a foreign government and it should be related to factual tourism about the United States. If you believe you or your organization qualifies, it is best to either contact an attorney or speak with your local U.S. Embassy or Consulate.