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DHS proposed journalist visa restrictions to affect US media abroad

Washington: The restrictions on foreign journalists proposed by the US government would limit the ability of the foreign press to cover events and report news in the United States, but also seriously affect the operations of US media abroad, Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) President Matthew Hall said in a statement on Tuesday.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) said in a statement last month that it has proposed limiting the duration of visas issued to foreign journalists in the United States to 240 days with an opportunity to obtain a maximum extension of 240 days.

“The proposed changes by the DHS would restrict the ability of independent foreign news organizations from reporting news within the US and could lead to reprisals affecting US journalists in other countries. Both outcomes are unacceptable,” Hall said in a comment sent to the US government portal regulations.gov as part of a public debate on the issue.

SPJ denounced the proposed changes “in the strongest terms,” saying the move is an effort to limit the number of foreign journalists in the United States and a way to intimidate reporters who are already working in the country.

“Given the backlog in US States Citizen and Immigration Services (USCIS) already for other routine extensions – some of which have taken up to six months – this new rule puts an undue burden on the already overworked USCIS employees and puts foreign journalists in a regular state of uncertainty when it comes to visa status renewals,” SPJ said.

Other organizations such as the European Broadcasting Union and the North American Broadcasters Association as well as media outlets like AFP, Reuters and the Associated Press said in a joint letter that the US government proposal threatens to seriously jeopardize the exercise of press freedom.

“The proposed initiative represents a serious risk for freedom of speech, guaranteed by the First Amendment of the US Constitution and risks damaging the United States’ reputation globally,” the letter said.

At present, foreign journalists can stay in the United States as long as they continue to perform their duties in compliance with the terms of admission to the country.
The DHS explained that the significant growth of the journalist – and other – visa programs has necessitated the proposed update to ensure the integrity of the US immigration system.

The Russian Embassy to the United States also criticized the proposed visa restrictions.
“The novelties proposed by the Department of Homeland Security in order to revise ‘I’ visa issuance procedures significantly complicate the professional duties of foreign journalists in the United States. In particular, the limitation of the period of stay for foreign media employees to 240 days (with the possibility of extension up to 480 days) will not allow them to consistently cover local events,” the Russian Embassy said.

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