NPR: Journalists Face Immigration Hassles in China

It may be cold comfort while efforts are stalled to improve it, but it’s worth keeping in mind that the U.S. immigration system could be worse – considerably worse. A recent story from National Public Radio (NPR) might help keep our frustrations in perspective. It recounts the immigration problems encountered by western journalists in China, who risk losing their visas if they report anything that might be considered offensive to someone in the government. [See Western Media in China: Adjusting to the ‘Anaconda, by Frank Langfitt, NPR Morning Edition, 11.Nov.2013.]

Recently, a veteran journalist from Reuters, who had reported from Beijing for nearly two decades, was denied a visa to work in China, NPR reports. The reasons remain unclear, but the evidence points to official discomfort with his past writings:

“Earlier this year, Reuters hired [Paul] Mooney, who’s written extensively on sensitive issues, such as human rights, child labor, and conditions in Tibet. Mooney says Chinese officials spent an hour and a half interviewing him as part of his visa application at the consulate in San Francisco. They asked about his views on Tibet. They even quoted from interviews he’d given.”

Mooney said Chinese consular officials told him, “We hope that – if we give you the visa – that you’ll report more objectively in the future,” which he took to be a not-so-veiled demand for quid pro quo. Report what we want, the way we want, and only then do you get the visa.

Visa quid pro quo is common practice among governments – its called reciprocity. You charge our citizens for this visa; we charge your citizens a comparable amount for the same visa. You approve these; we approve those. So why can’t the problem with Chinese visas for American reporters be easily solved by sitting on some of our visas for Chinese reporters?

The November 11th – Veteran’s Day – timing of the NPR piece could not have been more appropriate for contemplating the rights and freedoms we enjoy in this country – among them the freedom of the press. The U.S. Congress does not find it palatable to deny freedom of the press to reporters, regardless of the state of reciprocity with the country to which they report. Perhaps all this helps, if nothing else, to put the current state of our immigration system in perspective: it may be cumbersome, time-consuming, and frustrating to get here, but – for so many – it is still worth it!

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