October 23, 2020 - Updated on October 26, 2020

US - RSF calls on DHS to drop plans to restrict journalists’ visas

Jason Redmond / AFP
The United States Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is on the verge of finalizing a draft rule that would toughen visa regulations for foreign journalists working in the country. Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls on the DHS to drop this worrying proposal, which would endanger the ability of foreign journalists to report independently. This move takes place against the broader backdrop of a deteriorating press freedom climate in the US in the run-up to the November 3 elections. RSF again urges candidates to sign the #PressFreedomPact as a first step towards turning this worrying situation around.

The rule, proposed by the Department of Homeland Security in late September, states that members of foreign media will only be allowed to work in the U.S. for up to 240 days, equivalent to about eight months. A one-time extension of up to 240 additional days could be possible. The proposed rule would mark a drastic change from the current rule, which allows journalists to remain in the U.S. as long as is necessary to complete their assignment. 

“We are concerned by this worrying proposal, which would compromise the ability of foreign journalists to uphold the freedom of the press,” said RSF’s Director of International Campaigns Rebecca Vincent. “Substantive and critical press coverage is only possible if journalists are able to familiarize themselves with a country for more than just a few months. Visa extension decisions could be used as leverage against journalists that are deemed disagreeable, and could thus discourage journalists from coming to the US. We call on candidates to oppose the DHS draft and demonstrate their commitment to protecting press freedom by signing the #PressFreedomPact.”

The agency will be accepting comments until October 26. After reviewing the comments, the DHS will draft a final rule to be reviewed by the White House’s Office of Management and Budget. This entire process will most likely take until well after the November elections.The regulations proposed for foreign journalists are part of a larger set of more severe regulations by the Department of Homeland Security regarding F, J, and I visas. The new rule would not only impact academics, university students, and participants of exchange or au pair programs, but also reporters and foreign correspondents. 

Through its #PressFreedomPact, RSF is challenging candidates running for office in the November elections to publicly commit to upholding the principles of press freedom. RSF is calling on candidates from all parties to sign a short declaration to support the freedom of the press. In doing so, RSF is creating awareness of the deteriorating conditions journalists work under in the US.

Since taking office, President Trump has habitually attacked the work of journalists. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, he has significantly restricted the issuance of all types of visas. Foreign journalists have reported difficulties with entering the country for years. Last year, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents stopped, questioned, and harassed several journalists at the U.S. border, including journalists with U.S. citizenship. Additionally, a decision by the US Agency for Global Media (USAGM) recently attracted attention. USAGM operates outlets like Voice of America and Radio Free Europe. Michael Pack, the agency’s new Trump-appointed CEO, announced that he will reassess the visas of numerous employees on a case-by-case basis and not approve visa extensions wherever appropriate.

The number of approved visas for foreign journalists has been in decline for several years: from 14,536 in 2016 to 14,126 in 2017, and further down to 11,874 in 2018. Most of the journalist visas issued in 2018 went to members of the media from the UK (1,768 visa), followed by Japan (1,205), Germany (888), Mexico (702), and France (641).

The US is ranked 45th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2020 World Press Freedom Index.


For more information on the #PressFreedom Pact, visit the campaign landing page on RSF’s website, or contact RSF USA communications manager Collin Boylin at cboylin(a) or via telephone at (202) 813-9497, extension 3.