Proposed US visa changes for journalists gather concern

Fixed period visa to replace current system

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Proposed US visa changes for journalists gather concern (Image: Wan-Ifra)

The US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has announced a proposed rule to fix the stay of non-immigrants to improve national security. Specifically, the proposed rule seeks to remove the current framework that allows representatives of foreign Information media to remain in the United States for as long as they maintain compliance with the terms and conditions of their period required to complete their assignment or employment.

If adopted, the proposed rule will establish a fixed time period of admission and an extension of stay procedure for ‘representatives of foreign information media”. Under the proposed rule, most foreign journalists would be admitted for a maximum of 240 days. The applications would remain pending after their period of admission.

Citing security concerns, Homeland Security says it plans to replace the current visa system with a fixed period visa for foreign journalists, students, and exchange visitors. The maximum period granted for a journalist to stay will be 240 days. Correspondents who wish to remain in the US longer than their approved duration will have to apply for an extension of stay for a maximum of another 240 days or leave.

It is not at all clear how the stay of foreign professional journalists in the United States can threaten the country’s national security,” said Wan-Ifra chief executive officer Vincent Peyregne.

The US administration’s proposed rules to limit the stay of foreign journalists in the country is a discriminatory measure that seeks to fix a problem that does not exist. It is a new assault on the press, which should be able to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media, and regardless of frontiers,” Peyregne added.

In a message to members of the Overseas Press Club of America, Ian Williams, president of the Foreign Press Association, said, “almost by stealth, Homeland Security is proposing ill-considered changes that will dampen foreign reporting in the US and on the UN – while risking provoking foreign governments to retaliate with restrictions on US reporters going abroad. Foreign reporting of the US and the UN is about to be completely transformed with “I” visa changes that threaten the livelihoods and legality of foreign correspondents – and no one is reporting it or protesting!”

Williams fears the new visa will limit flexibility and introduce continual uncertainty. “Good luck getting an apartment or office lease for 240 days! And anyone who thinks renewal of status will be seamless and assured has not been doing much reporting on life in the US recently! One cannot underestimate the thrvisaeats to freedom of the press.”

Being scrutinized by Homeland Security every 240 days is bound to have a dampening effect on reporters’ objectivity, Williams said.

Read our article on freedom of expression in Indian journalism here