Visa verities

IF YOU sign a "Visa Waiver" form on entering the United States, you may well get booted out if there's any suspicion that you'll be doing any kind of work while you're there. Pamela Morton gives the lowdown.

The Press Gazette reported a cautionary tale of what can happen if journalists try to enter the United States under the Visa Waiver scheme. Four British journalists covering a computer games conference were refused entry, detained for 26 hours and deported. US customs' hospitality extended to handcuffs and 18 hours in a downtown LA detention centre.

The advice from the US Embassy is that journalists intending to work in the US need a visa - including those conducting interviews or attending meetings.

Journalists can apply for the "I" visa. However, the Embassy advises that only those involved in the newsgathering process are eligible. The website states "...freelance journalists and members of independent production companies will only be considered... if they are under contract to a media organisation." You'll need to show a copy of the contract, which includes your name, position held with the company, purpose and length of stay in the US and duration of contract.

Check with the Embassy what documentation you need to produce with your application. Additional requirements are imposed on nationals of certain countries and individual personal circumstances can make a difference to eligibility and processing times.

The duration of the visa is at the discretion of the issuing officer. It may cover just the one trip or last up to five years.

Visa services agents can no longer submit applications. But the Embassy has confirmed that postal applications for "I" visas can be made. However, any applicant may be required to appear in person for an interview before a consular officer. Allow plenty of time for your application - up to 8 weeks. You should also remember that a visa does not necessarily guarantee entry into the US.

It's hard to speak to a human at US Embassy by phone: see the info at www.usembassy.org.uk

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