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RCFP urges Department of Homeland Security to scrap proposed changes to foreign journalist visas

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  1. Newsgathering

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and 37 media organizations are urging the Department of Homeland Security to abandon or, at minimum, revise plans to restrict visas for foreign journalists working in the United States.

In written comments submitted to DHS on Oct. 26, 2020, the Reporters Committee argues that the federal government’s proposed changes to foreign journalists’ visas, known as I visas, could chill newsgathering and subject U.S. reporters abroad to retaliation.

In September, DHS announced a proposal limiting the length of stays in the United States for international students, exchange visitors and foreign journalists. As DHS itself recently explained, “The United States has for decades permitted individuals who are representatives of foreign information media outlets to remain in the United States for the entirety of the period that the individual is engaged in that activity.” Under the proposed rule changes, however, the duration of the stay would be shortened to 240 days, with a possible 240-day extension.

In its comments, the Reporters Committee highlights the risk that the renewal process could be used to retaliate against reporting unfavorable to the U.S. government, urging DHS to either withdraw the changes or place clear limits on officials’ ability to inquire into the content of applicants’ reporting. The Reporters Committee also cautions that the proposal creates a risk for U.S. journalists abroad, who may see their visa terms restricted by other nations.

As a result, the comments “urge the Department to revise the Proposed Rule with respect to I visas, to ensure that the I visa program cannot be used to retaliate against foreign journalists or chill newsgathering and reporting; to ensure that the visa term is long enough to support the reporting activities for which I visas are intended; and to ensure that it will not be cited by other countries to impair the international operations of domestic news organizations.”

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