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Customs to give one-time free pass for foreign journalists

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    News Media Update         WASHINGTON, D.C.         Newsgathering    

Customs to give one-time free pass for foreign journalists

  • The U.S. Customs & Border Protection bureau will give foreign media representatives a one-time break and allow them to enter the United States even if they arrive with the wrong visa.

May 24, 2004 — A one-time entrance waiver will be granted to foreign journalists who arrive in the United States on assignment without the required “I visa,” the U.S. Customs & Border Protection bureau announced Friday.

A visa waiver program allows citizens of 27 “friendly” nations to come to the United States on business or pleasure for up to 90 days; only a passport is required. However, members of the foreign media must apply for and receive a special I visa from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services bureau if they intend to do any work in the country. Immigration Services define media as “foreign press, radio, film or other foreign information media.”

Since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, a number of journalists have been expelled from the United States upon arriving without the proper paperwork. A British freelance writer was detained at Los Angeles International Airport earlier this month for not having the right visa; she was sent back to London the following day.

“We realize there is a difference between fraud and failure to be informed of the legal requirements for entering the United States,” Robert Bonner, commissioner of the Customs & Border Protection, told The Associated Press. “That is why we are giving our port directors leeway when it comes to allowing journalists to enter the United States who are clearly no threat to our security.”

Bonner pointed out that only one exception per journalist will be made. After that, the journalist will need to have an “I visa” on his or her next visit. If they do not, they will be expelled from the country, the AP reported.

Bill Anthony, a spokesman for Customs & Border Protection, said the policy shift is in response to the high number of journalists who have recently arrived at U.S. airports with the wrong visa. For instance, Anthony said, foreign journalists often come to the United States with a “B visa,” designated for those who have “a residence in a foreign country which he has no intention of abandoning and who is visiting the United States temporarily for business or temporarily for pleasure,” according to Immigration Services. Despite the similarities between the two visas, those journalists are denied entry into the country.

“It makes us look overly bureaucratic, and we don’t want to look that way,” said Anthony, noting that the policy shift is directed at journalists who arrive in the U.S. with the wrong visa, not those who have “no visa or passport whatsoever.” Elena Lappin, the British journalist expelled from the United States earlier this month, was only traveling with a valid passport.

Journalists who arrive in the United States with the wrong visa or no visa will need to show their media credentials or provide other means for customs officials to verify their employment or assignment. Numerous reporters are expected to travel to the United States next month for the G8 Summit, to be held in Sea Island, Ga. In addition to the eight countries involved — the U.S., Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and Russia — President Bush has invited leaders of six African nations to attend.

“We want to keep terrorists and terrorists’ weapons out of the country,” Anthony said. “We don’t want to keep journalists out of the country.”


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© 2004 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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