Joi Ito's Web

Joi Ito's conversation with the living web.

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.

via Loic


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.


I'm probably not so better but I have an I visa for 7 years now so I can tell some of my experiences.

my understanding to "why is the US singling out journalists for special visas?" is working status issue. you know that the US gov issues several different working Visas. if a person has H visa, his/her employer is an US company. if it is L visa, the emplyer is a company established outside of the US and sending the person to the US. this is same to I visa holder. it is considered to be sent to the US by some media company/organization established outside of the US. as you see, this is not based on journalists social status issue, rather, who is paying that journalists money issue.

basically, an I visa holder comes to the US, what INS agents at the airport ask you is "what publication are you working for?". however, you may be puzzled by the handling of I visa by INS agents because it vary a lot. especially if you say your publication is on the web.

I had strange experences at Seattle airport. I answered the INS agent in front of me "I work with web news service". then he turned a bit harsh and asked "that means it is international publication, right?" I said "no, it's Japan domestic site". but the agent continued "but web is accessilbe internatinally...". after I said "the news are all writen in Japanese. only Japanese can read it". after this answer, the agent seemed contend. this showes there is some definition in INS/DHS about web based publication.

then about bloggers. you see it's employment status varies a lot by person. but I think a blogger can say at the ariport "I own a publication and the name is '(your site name here)'". then again, you may be asked similar questions as above. you need to be prepared. and I don't recomend to enter the US through Seattle.

Given the current ambiguity concerning the status of bloggers in the United States, I would get some legal advice if I were you before you tried to enter the country as a journalist.

I expect that sometime in the future there will be a definitive court ruling in the US concerning whether or not bloggers are journalists, but until then there is no real way to tell (legally speaking).

just a bit of clarification. a blogger with I visa could say "I own my publication". but to get I visa, with after 9/11 policy change, you have to visit the US embasy for an interview.

I haven't gotten through this yet for my visa renewal. I'm not so sure what kind of question will be there.

Thanks gt. It sounds from your explanation that this might cover professional journalists, but not amateur journalists. It concurs with the general tone of the State Department web page which seems to focus on who is paying the journalist. Is there some sort of official place you can ask for an opinion on this sort of thing? Or maybe it's one of those "you shouldn't have asked" questions. ;-)

Tyler: Agreed. I think the point is, particularly for those bloggers who live in friendly countries under the visa waiver system, you don't need to get a visa to enter the US. Therefore, clearly we would rather NOT have to get an I visa. It seems like, at least from the information that we have right now, the rule is for professionals. Maybe it's a good thing I don't have ads on my blog... ;-)

if there's such place I want to ask questions too because my visa renewal is next year.

however, I'm curious about a couple bills moving in the House and Sanate might have some interesting effect on the issue, HR581 and S340. by these may become a law and it define bloggers as similar to journalists, there might be a chance that offically someone claim DHS/INS about bloggers status.

here's a new about those bills:,1283,68072,00.html

I think that since Apple won the thinksecret case, bloggers are not journalists at least for now. At least you have plausible deniability.

This is really just one of the thousands of stupid laws we have in the US. It used to upset me when dumb and unfair laws were passed, but then I realized that since I don't follow the laws anyway then it shouldn't bother me so much.

Alex: I think the court determined that the bloggers WERE journalists. (See the FAQ on the EFF site.) But I think this case focuses on the freedom of the press and free speech attributes of journalism and not the employment issue. Having said that, I'm not sure they're unrelated.

Actually, journalists from visa waiver countries explicitly need I-visas. There have been several cases where UK or Australian journalists have been deported when traveling under visa waiver. A waiver only covers tourist and B/B1 status...

The one big problem with the I visa as it stands is that it doesn't handle the case of a freelance journalist at all well, assuming a contractual relationship with a publisher/production house. There's no clear ruling on the status of freelancers on visa waivers.

I'm a technology writer and freelance for many different titles, including The Guardian, and decided it was safest to get an I-visa - it's important for technology writers to get access to US companies. Still, it was a significant investment in time and money to organise...

Simon : Yes. That's my point. At what point does a person become a journalist. It's somewhat similar to the question of at what point a tourist becomes a businessman. I once saw a businessman get separated from his family and deported immediately because he had checked "tourist" and mentioned that he would be seeing some of his business collegues. The officer let the rest of his family in, but called an airline agent to the immigration counter and forced him to change his ticket to return immediately with a non-changeable ticket. Even though his trip appeared to be primarily tourism, that particular officer decided that his visiting his business collegues constituted "business". My question would be, what is the "test" for DHS to decide whether you are a "journalist" or visiting as a journalist. I assume it's different from what a court would rule in a free speech case. But, if you as you say, freelance journalists are in the gray-zone, it would seem that most bloggers would also not be classified as journalists by the DHS...

When you say, "it's important for technology writers to get access to US companies" you mean that you need to travel to the US right? It doesn't mean that you get any special acces with your I visa does it?

I'm sorry but you guys can't have it both ways.

On the one hand bloggers are demanding access to press conferences, exhibitions and other events as journalists and claiming freedom of the press in what they write -- and complaining loudly if they don't get it. On the other hand, bloggers here are now talking about how to get around cumbersome restrictions or requirements made on journalists.

My point isn't to argue that you're a journalist or not - it's just that you can't change this definition as and when it suits you. You have to live with the good and the bad.

I doubt immigration recognizes "amateur journalists" so you should seriously consider "testing" immigration in the US or some other countries. (Most countries have journalist visa requirements but pretty much only the US countries with an authoritarian government will give you a hard time)

anon reader: I'm mixing a few separate threads here so maybe it's a bit confusing. At one level I'm just trying to figure out what the rule is so I can comply with it. It sounds like the rule is focusing on the employment part and that's why I raised the question of the treatment of amateurs.

At another level, you're right. I don't think bloggers should hide the fact that they are at least trying to be journalists, albeit with maybe a slightly different definition.

The other question I am raising is the reason behind singling out journalists from other trades for a special visa. It seems like one valid reason is that their employment structure is slightly different from traditional businesses. Other more paranoid interpretation would be that they want to track information going out to foreigners. Or maybe it's both.

I guess that one way to look this issue is when the State Dept and the DHS collide. currently the State Dept set the definition of visas and INS/DHS is checking the visa holders status at the entry points. and the definition was based on employment/occupation status. right now the definition of I visa is employed/contracted person working with media companies.

but if sometime in the future the DHS may have more control over visa definitions along with the State Dept, there is a chance they input Blogger Visa requirement. because the DHS might see amatuers reporters who spreads information to the public is uncontrolable threat to the US national security. a forecast is like, I-1 for professional journalist, I-2 for professional bloggers, I-3 for amateur bloggers, and I-4 for amateur diary bloggers.(but I think they drop the idea of I-4 by seeing current increasing number of bloggers...)

I'm one of those international journalists that were refused entrance in the United States because they didn't have an I-visa. Here is some background on my story. Even thought I have not been allowed to call a lawyer or to phone my newspaper to demonstrate my point, I will never stop paying for that story as I found. The United States have a law about journalists that visit that country: it is an undemocratic and stupid law, that can only affect honest journalist, because all others say they are tourist and get in.

But the law is there. Bloggers should care?

Given the law, it is not clear if Americans could issue such a visa to bloggers (the law speak about working about media companies, which implies that it is a paid job...)

Protesting against the fact that bloggers are not recognized journalists may be good, but I would first protest against the law that seem to compare journalists and very dangerous criminals.

I think people are getting overly hung up on the word 'journalist' rather than the word "employee" or "worker." It's not an issue of what kind of "journalist" you are, but what kind of "worker" that causes problems. Every country, darn near, limits the rights of people to work in that country, and these restrictions are far more onerous than a simple entry visa. From doctors and lawyers to grape pickers to professional atheletes, there are limits on how many foreign workers can enter the US (or Japan or South Africa) to ply their trade. I believe many countries even limit the right of "volunteer" workers to work in that country (for example, while I was in Hong Kong on a dependent visa, I was not allowed to work (for free) for any company). I believe the US has a similar law for dependents as well.

The issue is "work". Journalists are actually given some preferential treatment in the system. Sort of an exemption against most of the curbs that exist on foreign workers, given the transient nature of their work. Same holds true for professional atheletes and artists, who have special classes of visas to enter as well. I believe professional academics attending conferences have a class as well. Try getting a "special class" of a visa to mow lawns, or pick grapes, or even write software (H1-B limits were reached in 24 hours last year).

The issue is money. Is your entry to the United States part and parcel of you making money? If your fulltime job is a blogger and you are going to blog from the US to make money, then you are working in the US. If so, you can't really (honestly) say you are entering the US as a tourist. If you job is to make tourist photo books and you enter the US to tour the tourist sites and take photos of the tourist wonders you aren't a tourist, but someone who is working. Most of the journalists who have been detained checked the box "tourist" and some even checked the box or said "I am not a journalist" which, when found out to be false, annoys the INS / BCIS agents to no end.

In short, follow the money, not the title.

I agree with Andrew. The issue is 'work'.

Journalism is a specific type of work that is not sponsored by a company in the country you are entering.

If you intend to 'work' as a journalist when entering the US, you need to declare so in order that they don't expect a US company to sponsor your work.

When I was in Singapore, I had a work visa that was arranged by Sony Singapore to enable me to legally do more than business meetings.

IMHO, if you intend to 'work' in the US as a journalist, the I visa is a much simpler way to go than a regular US work visa.

If you do not consider your journalism to be 'work', then a tourist visa seems appropriate.

I doubt it is a grand conspiracy, simply good intentioned ideas carried out or defined poorly.

Thanks Michael and Andrew,

I think, as you do, that the American law about journalists having to get the visa is part of the general regulation of incoming workers in the States. I agree that this is not a grand conspiracy: it is much more a grand burocratic stupidity. I can also testify that many other countries have a regulation about incoming workers but don't make a special law for journalists. And even more: I can testify that not many countries arrest journalists and treat them like criminals for having said that they are journalists who didn't spend a couple of days in their countries to get a visa.

To go back to the main issue: should bloggers care?

Not if they blog for free and don't see their blog as media job. If they are paid direcly for their blog I don't see why they are different from journalists. But if they want to affirm that their blogging for free is journalism they can do that on their blogs, but they shouldn't discuss the issue with the immigration officer in the States: he would not understand. And you could get yourself in trouble.

- "Purpose of trip?"
- "Holidays! :D "
- "Why do you have your computer and camera with you?"
- "I use the computer to store the pictures and if I'm lucky enough to find some internet, to share with family back home! :D "
- "Have a nice day."

Of course, if you're dressed all in black and hauling a bag full of electronics and documents, that little story doesn't fly so well. ;)

Basic lying skill is lying as little as possible. Keep it short, simple and realistic; reduce your chances of slipping up/getting busted. Besides, US Customs and Immigration has no real grip on reality anyways. No point in honesty. Works for me - a white, blonde caucasian male - but of course your mileage will vary.

As for why are they are singling out journalists... C'mon. "He who controls the information, wins." Any loophole will be exploited.

I've carried a camera and a laptop wherever I go. I have a livejournal where I blog infrequently (most of my posts are comments to my friends posts).

Works just fine for me. I just don't pretend to be a journalist.

Only people I can see who can claim to be a journalist, and publish online, are people like Declan, who work for regular online publications.

Bloggers? No way in hell can they be called journalists. Any more than a guy who discusses elections in a bar can be called a political commentator.

They just shouldnt pretend to be full fledged journalists in order to get a press pass, for example, to conferences.

Part of the issue is whether or not you are being paid to be a journalist.

Professionals get paid, have clips, and letters of assignment. Phony and wantabee journalists are the bane of every trade show press room. You have to at least meet the same standard you would there. Being a really cool person just insin't enough anymore.

Professionals also usually adhere to a code of ethics about objectivity and that kind of thing. They have editors and are part of a process. Bloggers might be in this status, but usually are not.

And back in the Cold War, journalism was sometimes used as "cover" by spies. Terrorists are also looking for easy waya to enter the country.

So be prepared to explain yourself. Have business cards, letters, clips , references and whatever else you need to get by this very unhip, low level layer of buracracy.

The people asking the questions have no real experience here and are working from a manual or a segment of a long boring training lecture.

And don't take it personally. Getting huffy about your status will just being you more attention, usually of the most negative kind.

Note that many of the "other" requirements specify that the journalist must be accredited or be a member of a journalistic organization. This does not apply to most bloggers.

Secondly, journalists effectively get preferential treatment with the I visa. It is illegal to go to the US and work on a week's contract even on a regular business visa or business oriented waiver.. 'business' means meetings only, and no productive work (except for 'repairs', basic training to operate a product you just sold, etc). Journalists, therefore, need the special visa to be able to do their work, as you can not "work" on a waiver whether you tick business or not.

The key is to think of the 'I' visa as a concession to journalists of your country. It allows them to work in the US and earn money without having to go through all the formalities of the work visa system. One of the reasons it doesn't work well for freelancers is that the US government is understandably trying to ensure the system isn't abused by people who plan to job in the US.

Of course, this assumes that people have straightforward job roles and work full-time as writers, and that a person who isn't a professional journalist wouldn't want to write for direct or indirect profit in the US. Look at Joi - he doesn't make money off his weblog directly, but it does indirectly help him earn a crust. Similarly with business travel in general. If I visit the US to talk about my new product, am I 'working' or just visiting on business? What if I sit down with them for a day or two and conduct a workshop? It's definitely a thin line, and there are a lot of people who have to skirt around it. In general, the United States is Open For Business, so there is some leeway. But there has to be some limit too.

Antoin - sales trips, visits to ICANN and the IETF etc are classed as business, for visa purposes.

So even if all that a guy does at a conference is drink beer in the hallways with his buddies, he still needs a business visa for it.

Andrew in #15 and Francis in #21 nailed it. "blogger" != journalist except in the imaginations of self important fools. Whining wont change it either.

Well, there's no problem getting a 'business' visa. If anything, it's easier than a 'vacation' visa. The reason for this is that regardless of anything else, America is Open for Business.

6 TrackBacks

Listed below are links to blogs that reference this entry: Do US visa requirements for journalists cover bloggers?.

TrackBack URL for this entry:

Joi Ito asks: "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... Read More

Joi Ito asks: "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... Read More

在Joi Ito的blog 上看到了 Birthdayroll,而今天就是自己的生日, 所以就想把自己的生日和在donews的blog链接也加上去。 所以我也决心开始写blog,总不能留下一个没有一篇blog的链接给人家吧。 do... Read More

Joi Ito asks: "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... Read More

An interesting thread on Joi Ito's blog discusses whether "US visa requirements for journalists cover bloggers?" The issue is whether... Read More

Do US visa requirements for journalists cover bloggers?... Read More