By Ian Reeves
From August, all British journalists wanting to work in the US will have to attend a personal interview at the US Embassy in London or the Consulate General in Belfast to obtain the necessary visa. Previously, such visas have been issued by post.
The new rule is part of a systematic tightening up of immigration procedures following September 11.
The I-visas, which allow journalists to carry out their jobs in the US, have been around for many years, but until the end of 2001 their enforcement had been largely at the discretion of border officials. In many cases, journalists were allowed through under the visa waiver programme, which covers tourist or business visits of 90 days or less.
But in recent months, many journalists have fallen foul of the stricter approach at US airports. In the worst cases, this has meant them being jailed while awaiting return flights.
Under the new system, applicants for visas must schedule an interview by ringing the Embassy’s live operator information service (09055 444 546 – calls cost £1.30 per minute). In most cases, the decision on whether to issue a visa, which costs £67, will be made at the interview. An I-visa lasts for five years. Current holders will not have to attend interview for renewals, provided they apply within 12 months of the old one expiring.
John Brennan, acting consul general, said he was aware that the fast-changing news agenda did not always allow organisations to plan reporters’ trips very far in advance. He said the consul would make every effort to accommodate those wanting to travel at short notice, but stressed that those organising large press trips, such as the Manchester United tour or prime ministerial visits, should get in touch at the planning stage.
“This visa is a very powerful tool,” he said. “Our advice would be, if you think you might need to travel to the US as part of your work, why not apply straight away?”
Two Lancashire Evening Telegraph reporters assigned to follow Blackburn Rovers FC on a pre-season tour of the US got no further than passport control last week after they admitted they were there on journalistic business. They were sent back to the UK on the next available flight.