Dennis Howlett brings up a good point. Do US visa requirements for journalists cover bloggers? Foreign journalists visiting the US, even from friendly countries, have to obtain a special "I visa". This is a rule from 1952 (according to Slate) which hadn't been enforced until the Department of Homeland Security took over INS in March 2003. According to the same Slate article, "at least 15 journalists from friendly countries have been forcibly detained, interrogated, fingerprinted, and held in cells overnight—with most denied access to phones, pens, lawyers, or their consular officials."
This is something to consider before declaring ourselves journalists or having others do so. I have a basic question for anyone who understands this policy better than me - why is the US singling out journalists for special visas? Maybe the answer to this question will help shed light on whether DHS would consider a blogger a journalist.
From the US State Department web site:
A citizen of a foreign country, who wishes to enter the United States, generally must first obtain a visa, either a nonimmigrant visa for temporary stay, or an immigrant visa for permanent residence. The type of visa you must have is defined by immigration law, and relates to the purpose of your travel. The "media (I)" visa is a nonimmigrant visa for persons desiring to enter the United States temporarily who are representatives of the foreign media traveling to the United States, engaging in their profession, having the home office in a foreign country. Some procedures and fees under immigration law, relate to policies of the travelers home country, and in turn, the U.S. follows a similar practice, which we call “reciprocity”. Procedures for providing media visas to foreign media representatives of a particular country, consider whether the visa applicants own government grants similar privileges or is reciprocal, to representatives of the media or press from the United States.
Under immigration law, media visas are for “representatives of the foreign media,” including members of the press, radio, film or print industries, whose activities are essential to the foreign media function, such as reporters, film crews, editors and persons in similar occupations, traveling to the U.S. to engage in their profession.
Other examples include, but are not limited to, the following media related kinds of activities:
* Primary employees of foreign information media engaged in filming a news event or documentary.
* Members of the media engaged in the production or distribution of film will only qualify for a media visa if the material being filmed will be used to disseminate information or news. Additionally, the primary source and distribution of funding must be outside the United States
* Journalists working under contract- Persons holding a credential issued by a professional journalistic organization, if working under contract on a product to be used abroad by an information or cultural medium to disseminate information or news not primarily intended for commercial entertainment or advertising. Please note that a valid employment contract is required.
* Employees of independent production companies when those employees hold a credential issued by a professional journalistic association.
* Foreign journalists working for an overseas branch office or subsidiary of a U.S. network, newspaper or other media outlet if the journalist is going to the United States to report on U.S. events solely for a foreign audience.
* Accredited representatives of tourist bureaus, controlled, operated, or subsidized in whole or in part by a foreign government, who engage primarily in disseminating factual tourist information about that country, and who are not entitled to A-2 visa classification.
* Technical industrial information- Employees in the United States offices of organizations, which distribute technical industrial information.
When I enter the US with my Japanese passport, I use a visa waiver
that asks me if I am coming to the US on business or as a tourist. Even if I am a businessman, if the purpose of my trip is for tourism, I am supposed to check the tourism box. So I would assume that even if bloggers are considered journalists, if the nature of your trip is not to engage in "news gathering" then you're probably OK. On the other hand, I suppose if you're going to the US to cover the President's speech, maybe you're getting close. I also wonder if bloggers who are not professionals would be considered "news media representatives/employees". Does anyone have a more informed opinion?
UPDATE: From a friend of a friend in the US State Department
The "I" visa category for journalists is really an employment-related category - it allows professional journalists to pursue their work as "representatives" of foreign media while in the U.S. I don't know that we have yet addressed the issue of bloggers. I think the key question is whether they would be receiving pay for their work in the U.S. or not. A blogger who represented an e-journal, for instance, might fit this description. Otherwise, they would travel on regular B-1/B-2 visas.