Trump’s government wants to radically shorten the duration of so-called “I visas”. Among other things, this jeopardizes reporting on the US.
Donald Trump began his presidency with a “Muslim ban” and almost daily verbal attacks against journalists. Next week it will be decided whether this presidency ends. But shortly before that, his acting minister for “domestic security”, Chad Wolf, shows that he still means business.
With a new rule, Wolf wants to radically complicate the US stay of more than two million people each year. Those affected include foreign students and researchers as well as journalists from all over the world who report from inside the US. The duration of their “I visas” is to be shortened from five years to just eight months in the future. The Minister justifies his plan with the fight against fraud and with “national security”. If implemented, it would put an end to continuous foreign coverage of the US.
“Journalistic freedom is in serious danger,” wrote 24 journalists: internal trade unions, radio stations and news agencies such as AFP and Reuters at the weekend. In a joint statement they warn:
Freedom of speech and the press and the US’s international reputation as a “free and open democracy” are threatened.
The Foreign Press Association and the Overseas Press Club in Washington also warn of “retaliation by foreign governments”, which in return could limit the length of stay of American journalists.
China did that back in the spring of this year. After the US government announced at the time that it would reduce the number of visas for Chinese journalists in its country from 160 to 100, the Chinese government refused several US media outlets (including the Wall Street Journal and CNN) new visas.
The Department of Homeland Security put the new rule online at the end of September, largely unnoticed by the public. On Monday night, the comment period in the Federal Register expired.
More than 26,000 critical comments were received. Most of them come from foreign students who could no longer complete a full course of study in the US under the new rule, from US research institutions that could lose talent from all over the world, and from private universities, those with the fees of foreign students: important income was lost inside.
On the other hand, there were hardly any reactions from foreign journalists. Many of them were busy reporting the final spurt in the US election campaign. They are a relatively small group that has shrunk a lot in recent years. Instead of almost 15,000 foreign journalists in 2016, two years later there were only 12,000 in the US, most of them from Great Britain and Japan, followed by Germany with 888 correspondents in the US. The pandemic has further restricted the issuing of new visas to foreign journalists. For months, the US embassies hardly let any more into the country.
So far, the “I-Visa” for journalists has a maximum term of five years and can be extended as often as required. In future, it should only be valid for 240 days and, if necessary, be renewable once for the same number of days. The extensions would have to be applied for in the country of origin.
That would mean that a foreign correspondent who arrives in the US when the next president takes office would have to leave the country before the end of his first year in the White House.
Should she – after returning to her home country – be lucky enough to get a follow-up visa, she would still have to leave the US before the mid-term elections in autumn 2022. The short times would make it difficult to immerse yourself in the country and establish contacts, make it almost impossible to find an apartment, drive up the costs of US correspondence – and ensure that foreign journalists: inside, the one Strive for a visa extension, can hardly allow critical reporting.
Because of the long review process that started on Monday, the new rule would not come into effect until after the presidential election. Multiple media outlets have already called on Democrat Joe Biden to overturn the rule if elected on November 3rd.