A spokesperson for USAGM announced on July 9 that the agency is assessing renewal applications for J-1 visas at Voice of America (VOA), one of the broadcasters overseen by USAGM. USAGM’s new Trump-appointed CEO, Michael Pack, allegedly signalled that he would not approve visa extensions. Sixty-two contractors and 14 full-time VOA employees currently working in the United States on J-1 visas are at risk of being forced to return to their home countries, where some could face retaliation due to their reporting. An unknown number of foreign journalists at USAGM’s other media entities are affected by this decision as well.
“Foreign journalists are crucial to the mission of USAGM’s media outlets, which is to produce news in dozens of languages so citizens in nations without independent media can access reliable reporting,” said Daphne Pellegrino, Advocacy Manager for RSF’s North America bureau. “Failing to extend the visas these journalists rely on to work in the United States only empowers governments that restrict freedom of information, and more critically, it could endanger the safety of journalists who have been working for USAGM media outlets when they return to their home nations. USAGM should quickly reverse course to ensure these journalists can remain in the United States, where they can work safely and help further the agency’s mission to inform.”
This is not the first decision Pack has made since being appointed CEO of USAGM that threatens to weaken the agency’s media outlets. Just weeks after his confirmation, Pack abruptly removed the heads of four of the agency’s news outlets on June 17 in what was described as the “Wednesday night massacre.” At the time, RSF called on USAGM and the new heads of each outlet to respect their independence, as required by the agency’s statutory “firewall” protecting USAGM outlets from outside editorial interference.
The United States is ranked 45th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2020 World Press Freedom Index.