Doing work in the US? You could be a business
In visa veritas
Last year's reports of the arrest, detention and
deportation of some UK journalists attempting to enter the USA
without appropriate visas led to the widespread misconception
that freelances might be barred from travel to the States unless
they could prove they had a commission. London Freelance member
Mike Harrison has an answer.
(And another one as more policies emerged.)
I was asked by my other professional body, the Association
of British Science Writers (ABSW), to take up the freelance case
with the US authorities. The solution turns out to be simple:
forget about the cachet-bearing journo's "I-visa" and
remember that, as a freelance, you're a one-person firm and likely
to be entitled to a business visa.
Post-9/11 the US immigration authority was told to tighten the
visa-waiver programme, which was originally intended only for tourists.
Before the clampdown, it was common for working journalists of all
kinds to be nodded through so long as they were not earning in the US.
That concession flouted rules which always required journalists
planning interviews or research to carry an "I-visa".
To get one of those you must have an endorsement from a bona fide
UK media organisation and it's hard to see how a freelance travelling
on spec could do this honestly.
However, in a letter to the ABSW, the US Consul in London advised
that there is a legally valid alternative: "Freelance journalists
[and authors] who travel to the US to conduct interviews or to do
research on speculation for future publication may qualify for
'B1 business' visas"
Journalists planning US trips should be aware of increasing
delays in processing new US visa applications, which now involve
a face-to-face interview. In October all routine waivers for UK
passport holders will end and the Embassy's visa workload is growing
as a result. It may be that the $100 visa charge is a sensible
investment right now, however tentative your travel plans.
After October only passports with digitally-encoded facial
identification will be acceptable for travellers travelling to
the US without visas but the UK won't be ready to issue them
until October 2005 at the earliest. The US authorities have said
it's possible they'll operate a dispensation for UK passport
holders involving fingerprinting and photography on arrival but
they will not relax the requirement for an appropriate visa
if there is any intention to work.
Note that the Embassy discourages telephone enquiries by
charging premium rates even while queuing. It's better to review
the notes for visa applicants on the Embassy web site and
apply on line.
US Visa Department:
090 5544 4546 (£1.30/min)