There are indications that visas will not be extended for international journalists employed at Voice of America (VOA) for politically motivated reasons. Voice of America is a U.S.-government funded international broadcaster whose Charter was signed into law by President Gerald Ford in 1976. The VOA Charter sets a reliable standard for journalism, making it an authoritative source of objective news. Since its assembly at the start of World War II, and through the Cold War, the fight for global counterterrorism and freedom, VOA has maintained its principle of a free press.
In recent events, a respected editor at Radio Free Asia was fired under the new CEO Michael Pack at the U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM) last month, an organization founded in the 1990s that supervises US-funded broadcasters VOA and Radio Free Asia (RFA). Pack has also fired the top officials at the five media agencies USAGM oversees, while the VOA director resigned two days before the firing spree. Both VOA and USAGM are funded by U.S. taxpayer dollars but are independent of it. Pack was appointed by Present Donald Trump and has ignored requests from VOA managers and bipartisan lawmakers to answer for the rationale behind these decisions and considers extending visas for their foreign-born journalists. Pack has commented that his actions are necessary to preserve the organization’s independence that will rebuild its reputation, improve its morale geared towards re-aligning its intended mission to provide bipartisan news.
In efforts to maintain the organization’s independence, Trump and the White House have been frustrated by VOA’s news reports for some time, claiming their coverage overly critiques Trump. While VOA has disputed such claims, Trump and the White House have deemed Voice of America as an unregulated news organization that disseminates reports favorable to international regimes and America’s adversaries. These concerns were made public after VOA published a report comparing the death toll between the US and China during the coronavirus pandemic. The Trump administration has taken precautions over the Chinese government’s tendency to control Chinese media companies, thus requiring Chinese media platforms in the U.S. to identify themselves as foreign missions.
For a brief period, there were prospects that international students won’t be able to extend their student visas to attend university in the U.S., which indicated that many journalists could face the same outcome and retaliation if forced to return to their home country. Many journalists’ reports anger authoritarian governments; subsequently, it is a daunting prospect to return to their home country. International journalists may face “death, imprisonment, and definitely harassment, for the reporting they have done.” For example, a Chinese journalist at VOA whose visa will expire towards the end of July may face consequences from Chinese authorities if forced to leave the United States.
An estimated 100 news employees at Voice of America are non-U.S. citizens; they are foreign nationals employed under visas that need to be regularly renewed or extended to continue working at the agency in Washington. These journalists are responsible for reporting news in the 47 languages transmitted by the Voice of America, such as Mandarin and Persian. The visas are known as the J-1 visa, and it is among the visas that are temporarily banned by Trump as a response to the Covid-19 pandemic to tackle the growing unemployment threat to Americans. J-1 visas enable these journalists to work in the United States for several years, and VOA employees have indicated that visa renewals have been the norm as journalist expertise is difficult to replace by U.S. citizens. VOA utilized J-1 visas on numerous occasions, such as to construct their Somali-language news service that involved the recruitment of Somali broadcasters who fled from war conditions in Africa to Canada or Britain. While the presidential proclamation will ban new visas for the upcoming six months, it is uncertain if it applies to the renewals of existing visas.
Trump’s signed proclamation 10014, will ban entry of foreign nationals in the following categories: H-1B, L-1, H-2B, J-1, and other related categories for dependents. The nonimmigrant ban commenced on June 24, 12:01 am, and extends through December 31, 2020. Trump has also ordered the Department of Homeland Security for stricter regulations for foreign nationals to attain an H-1B nonimmigrant status or green card in the EB-2 and EB-3 categories through sponsorship. Exemptions to the entry ban for foreign nationals include those present in the U.S. at 12:01 am on the date the proclamation took effect, those waiting for a change of status for the FY 2021 H-1B cap, foreign nationals with a valid visa or U.S. travel document on June 24, J-1 participants involved in the exchange program, and foreign nationals providing temporary work needed for the U.S. food supply.