(Washington D.C.) — PEN America joined more than 35 news organizations and press freedom advocates in a comment submitted to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, objecting to a proposed rule that would stifle the ability of foreign journalists and students to work and study in the United States. The proposed Rule 85 FR 60526 would limit the initial period and extension allowances of F, J, and I Visas (given to students, exchange visitors, and representatives of foreign media respectively) to 240 days each: a shorter, stricter time frame than current visa allowances. The proposed rule would pose significant challenges to those who require prolonged U.S. residency for their work or studies.  

The comment, prepared by the Reporters Committee for the Freedom of the Press, focuses on the threat to press freedom and notes that the “proposed revisions, by restricting the ability of foreign journalists to report from the United States, now threaten to trigger retaliation by other countries against U.S.-based news organizations, which would impair international news gathering and reporting by domestic members of the news media.  Indeed, it could lead to further retaliation by other countries against Congressionally funded international broadcasting networks administered by the U.S. Agency for Global Media.”  

“If moved forward, this rule would have negative repercussions for press freedom in the United States and abroad, inhibit cross-cultural communication and information flows, create unnecessary new roadblocks for foreign journalists reporting in or on the United States, and heighten the risk of politicizing the visa renewal process,” said Thomas O. Melia, Washington director of PEN America. “Homeland Security’s dubious claim that ‘increased risks’ to the safety of Americans are posed by the presence of such international professionals, and its attempt to limit these journalists’ ability to foster open dialogue and new ideas in the U.S., raises serious questions about the motivations of these visa changes.”

“The last thing the United States should be doing is putting unnecessary bureaucratic impediments in the way of foreign journalists, who are essential to the flow of free and diverse information here at home and globally,” said Melia.