State Makes It Tougher on Journalists

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It looks as though a lot of foreign journalists will have to go to through some new, tougher hoops to report on the United States.

Citing homeland security issues, the State Department will no longer allow foreign journalists visiting the U.S. or stationed here semi-permanently to easily renew their Visa's in-country.

That means 20,000 journalists who have been able to renew their visas without too much hassle will now be faced with a lot of additional time--from 4-6 weeks to up to six months--and some extra expense to renew them.

As of July 16, holders of class I Visas (foreign media representatives), as well as several other classes of nonimmigrant visas, will be required to reapply at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate abroad when those visas expire..

"This action is being taken because Section 303 of the Enhanced Border Security and Visa Entry Reform Act requires the State Department to incorporate a biometric in every U.S. visa issued after October 26, 2004," said Sate. Translation, fingerprint-scanning posts are being set up for extra security.

The news, announced June 23, did not sit well with the Society of Professional Journalists. The group complained Tuesday that not only does it create a logistical problem for thousands of foreign journalists, including "tons" of broadcast and cable reporters, says SPJ President Mac McKerral, but it could create a backlash against U.S. reporters abroad.

"SPJ is very concerned that this action prompts reciprocal actions by foreign governments to American journalists living and working overseas," said McKerral.

Given the July 16 effective date of the new policy and the government's invocation of homeland security, the chances of getting the policy changed do not appear great. "All we can do is we let the immigration folks know we think it is bad policy," he says. "They are regulations. If you let people know they are unfair and unworkable, hopefully they will fix it somehow."

For those who missed the announcement of the policy, "A notice announcing the termination of domestic reissuance service for these visas appears in the Federal Register of June 23, 2004, Public Notice 4747, at page 35121."

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