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Publication date: Jul. 28, 2004

SEJ VOICES CONCERN ON JOURNALIST VISA RESTRICTIONS

SEJ joined two other journalism groups in protesting restrictions on the entry of foreign journalists into the US that go far beyond those imposed on ordinary tourists. The practice could skew coverage of global environmental issues from venues like the United Nations.

The Society of Environmental Journalists joined the National Association of Science Writers (NASW) and the Association of Health Care Journalists (AHCJ) July 28, 2004, in a letter to top immigration officials protesting a requirement for visas (prior permission to enter the US) for journalists from 27 countries the US considers friendly. Ordinary citizens from those 27 nations can come here to work or vacation for up to 90 days without visas.

But journalists from those nations must get special visas, called "I" visas, before leaving their home countries. The backlog for processing such visas now runs one or two months - making it impossible for many foreign reporters to cover breaking stories. Since the 9/11 attacks, the letter stated, "more than a dozen journalists, most from France or Britain, have been detained, interrogated, searched and held in cells - sometimes in conditions that were uncomfortable and humiliating - before being deported to their home countries, all because they lacked visas."

The letter was sent to Commissioner Robert C. Bonner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, and Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge. It was also sent to members of the Senate Immigration Subcommittee and House Subcommittee on Immigration, Border Security, and Claims. The complete text of the letter is available here. A similar letter was sent separately by the American Society of Newspaper Editors.

An increasing number of environmental news stories - from global warming to waterborne disease - are international or global in nature. Some of the non-governmental organizations addressing global environmental issues are headquartered in the US - such as the World Wildlife Fund, World Resources Institute, or Worldwatch Institute. And a number of major news organizations covering US environmental stories are foreign-based or international - such as Reuters or AFP.

Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., has introduced a bill (HR 4823) to allow foreign journalists from the 27 "friendly countries" to enter the US on short-term business without obtaining an I-Visa. The bill has been referred to the Committee on the Judiciary. Read a letter about the bill from Lofgren to her House colleagues. The full text of the bill is here.


Last revised January 22, 2013

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