by Protima Daryanani

Our beautiful  I visa chart (click to download as a PDF)  summarizes key points about the I visa.

Our beautiful I visa chart (click to download as a PDF) summarizes key points about the I visa.

1. What is the I visa?

An I visa is a temporary visa which allows representatives of foreign press, radio, film, or other foreign information media to enter the US in connection with the news gathering process, as well as informational or educational documentary films or a television series. It is a temporary visa that should not be used as a basis for a permanent stay in the US.

2. Who can use the I visa?

Reporters, members of a media or documentary film crew, video tape editors, employees of independent production companies, freelance journalists working under contract, or anyone essential to the foreign information media function may be eligible for this visa. Both print and film activities are included in this category. The foreign media organization which the I visa applicant is representing should have a home office outside the US.

3. Who cannot use it?

If the applicant is working on commercial, entertainment, or advertising productions, they will not qualify for "I" classification visas. Stories that involve reenactments or staged events, scripted or dramatized events such as reality television and quiz shows, are not primarily informational and, as such, cannot be the basis of an I visa application.

4. What are the limitations?

The I visa is company-specific and project-specific, so the I visa holder may only work for the foreign media organization that sent them over to the US on the project and in the capacity that was outlined in the I visa application. It is only intended for temporary work in the US on behalf of the foreign media organization that sponsored the application and should not be used if the applicant intends to take up residency in the US. An I visa holder can travel in and out of the US as many times as needed to complete the relevant project, as long as the visa remains valid.  

5. How to apply for one?

I visas must be applied for directly at a US Embassy/Consulate in the applicant’s home country. The applicant must make a visa appointment at the US Embassy/Consulate, complete and submit the DS-160, and pay the applicable visa processing fee. The applicant must present their passport (valid for at least six months beyond period of intended stay in the US) and valid documentation, including a letter signed by the foreign media organization sponsoring the application outlining how the applicant qualifies for the I visa, as well as a valid employment contract. Applicants should allow enough time for the Embassy/Consulate to process the visa stamp (typically three to ten business days).

6. How long is the I visa valid?

I visas can be approved for up to five years; however, some Embassies and Consulates have recently begun issuing shorter term visas (six months to one year) depending on the amount of time they believe the applicant will need to finish the project or production outlined in the visa application. As long as the I visa holder enters the US during the validity period of the I visa stamp, they will be admitted to the US for “duration of status,” which means that they can remain in the US for as long as they work on the approved project. The visa will cease to be valid if the I visa holder works for a company other than the foreign media organization that sponsored their I visa application.

7. What about family?

An I visa holder’s spouse and child (under twenty-one) may also apply for derivative I visas that will allow them to accompany the I visa holder to the US. Spouses and children are not authorized to work in the US with the derivative I visa, but they may attend school or university while in the US, although the school may suggest they obtain a student visa (F-1).

8. What if the I visa holder receives a job offer with a new employer in the US?

If an I visa holder identifies a new work opportunity in the US with a new employer, they must discuss their visa options with their prospective employer. They may apply for a change of status to a new visa classification with the new employer. But they cannot commence working with the new employer until the change of status petition is approved.

9. What happens if the I visa holder leaves the foreign media organization sponsor?

If the I visa holder leaves the foreign media organization that sponsored the I visa, the I visa will no longer be valid as it is specific to their work for the foreign media organization that sponsored their application.  Even though the visa stamp may still be valid, if the I visa holder is not working with the sponsor, they are no longer in valid status.  

10. What if the I visa holder wants to stay in the US permanently?

If an I visa holder wishes to remain in the US permanently, they should consider an immigrant visa, more commonly known as a Green Card.  Generally, they must be sponsored either by a US employer or a by a US citizen family member, if applicable. It is best to discuss Green Card options with a lawyer in order to determine the best plan of action.