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Trump administration plans to restrict journalist visas to the US

Experts warn the move will damage press freedom, hopes rest on Biden win in November

The comment period on the Trump administration’s plan to shorten the term for journalist visas to the US expired on Monday, October 26. The proposal aims to cut the standard admission period from 5 years to just 240 days (potentially extended to 480 days). Journalists worry the decision would harm both American and foreign media if implemented.

The plan to limit foreign journalists’ stay in the US was developed by the United States Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and published in late September. Limitations for journalists are part of a larger plan to limit the stay of certain foreign groups, including students and exchange visitors.

Under the proposal, foreign journalists could receive a visa of a maximum 240 days. After it expires, a person could be able to leave the US and ask for one 240-day extension. Overall, the general stay period for foreign journalists would be reduced considerably. The DHS argues its plan would help improve national security and “reduce fraud”.

The journalist community, however, has been largely critical of the plan. In the short term, this decision would clearly be harmful for foreign – notably European – media outlets. As The Fix puts in our weekly newsletter, “the US is the world’s biggest news-generating market, having correspondents who don’t have the time to build up connections and context, will evidently harm the quality of their editorial output”.

The European Broadcasting Union brought together 24 media organisations globally to call for dropping the DHS proposal. Their statement highlights that the proposal harms press freedom and doesn’t do much in terms of protecting US national security.

In the long run, the implementation of this plan would also be harmful for the American media, US journalists fear. The New York Times’ editorial board believes the new limit would be “a self-inflicted wound for the US” — not only because “foreign journalists spread the American story to the world”, thus benefiting the country, but also because other countries are likely to retaliate with similar restrictions on US journalists.

The planned restrictions will not be implemented right away. With the comment period having ended on Monday, the agency responsible will have to review and incorporate the comments, before sending the final rule to the Office of Management and Budget for review – “a process that would stretch past the [November presidential] election”, according to The New York Times.

While it is not clear what’s Joe Biden’s view on this question, the man generally favored to win the election is widely known to be more friendly towards immigration and non-immigrant visitors. In an opinion piece for The Washington Post, president of global agency Feature Story News Simon Marks calls on Biden to overturn the changes should the latter win the election.

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