The H-1B statistics show American newsrooms give little chance to international student applicants

An analysis found that the vast majority of U.S. newsrooms had fewer than 10 visa sponsorships in the past three years.

In six months, I will graduate with a degree in journalism and two cinema minors from the University of Southern California. I have served as the executive editor of Annenberg Media, written and reported major investigative stories in news outlets, and was selected as the Emerging Tech Fellow at my journalism school. Yet, I feel hopeless about my future journalism career in the United States, because of my nationality. While I have faith in my ability and experience, I have little confidence in the American visa system and the news industry's track record.

American newsrooms claim to champion diversity, but the industry seems to be showing little effort when it comes to hiring recent international graduates, according to visa sponsorship statistics. An analysis of listings on an employment website for overseas workers shows the majority of U.S. media organizations filed 10 or fewer H1-B visa sponsorships for journalism-related jobs in the past three years. Those are the visas most common for recent graduates, as opposed to O-1 visas which are awarded for extraordinary ability or achievements.

Sirui Hua, from Suzhou, China, is one of the lucky few. Hua, an associate producer at digital news outlet NowThis, graduated from Fordham University’s Gabelli School of Business in 2015 with a master’s degree in Marketing Intelligence. As a student, Hua got to know a senior editor at NowThis, who was teaching at Fordham. Like most international students, Hua needed an H-1B visa to work in the United States for an extended time after graduation. The company agreed to sponsor him for an H1-B visa, which he then won through a lottery. According to, one of the largest websites tracking U.S. job opportunities for international applicants, Group Nine Media Inc., the parent company of NowThis, offered only five visa sponsorships in 2017. The other four were jobs not related to journalism. Group Nine did not respond to a request for comments on this story.

Sirui Hua from China is a producer at NowThis.

“My case was special,” Hua said. Like many of his peers, he did not know much about the visa system before he came to the United States. By the time he needed to worry about job searching, he said, he had already interned at NowThis and secured the sponsorship. Hua adds that he knows the difficulty of getting a sponsorship as a journalist and that not everyone could be as lucky as he was. Hua said most American people do not know about the country’s immigration system, which, in his view, is very screwed up. He said his boss did not know anything about H-1B before sponsoring him, and still 99% of his colleagues at NowThis have no idea about H-1B. In his view, most Americans have little idea how complicated and arbitrary the legal immigration system can be.

When it comes to H-1B sponsorship, newsrooms generally ranked at the bottom of the top 50 industries. Most U.S. newsrooms had fewer than 50 sponsorships each year, and the vast majority of them have fewer than ten. In contrast, tech companies, such as Facebook, Google and IBM, or accounting firms, such as Deloitte and Ernst & Young, filed thousands of sponsorships each year.

Among those visa sponsorship applications filed by newsrooms, many are given to positions unrelated to journalism, such as management, business or technology related titles. For example, although the Los Angeles Times, the largest newsroom in the West Coast, had a total of ten sponsorships between 2015 and 2019, they were “Special Project Director” and “Senior Product Manager”; the Los Angeles Times had zero sponsorships for reporters or editors.

For this article, I collected every H-1B sponsorship application from the past three years that contained the words “journalist(s)”, “reporter(s)”, “editor(s)”, “producer(s)” and “correspondent(s)” in the job title section. The results include those denied, approved and withdrawn. Among American mainstream newsrooms, Bloomberg took the lead in all three years, filing 16 sponsorships in 2019, 29 in 2018 and 14 in 2017. The New York Times, one of the largest newsrooms in the world, sponsored 10 journalists jobs in 2017, four in 2018 and seven in 2019. Broadcast stations ABC News and NBC News sponsored zero journalists.

The Los Angeles Times and the New York Times spokespeople both declined to comment. Bloomberg, ABC News and NBC News did not respond to the request for comments for this story.

H-1B Visa Sponsorship for journalism-related jobs

Choose your year:

Choose your company:

Data source: The data set only includes newsrooms that have at least one sponsorship for journalism-related job (reporter, editor, producer, correspondent, journalist) in the selected year.


- The list is ranked in an order from the greatest number to the lowest.

- Certified: The H1-B visa is approved BY USCIS.

- Certified-Withdrawn: The H1-B visa is approved, but the sponsor retrieved it.

- Withdrawn: The sponsor retrives the sponsorsip before it gets approved.

- Denied: The H1-B visa gets rejected by USCIS.

Hua said he applied for an H-1B visa during his second year working after graduation and was lucky to win the lottery in his first attempt. H1-B is a temporary/nonimmigrant working visa that is valid for three years and for one more extension of another three years. H1-B visas are awarded through a literal lottery system. Every year, United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) asked employers to file sponsorships for their intended employees by the first week of April to enter the lottery. Each year, UCS gives out 65,000 H-1B new visas to applicants with bachelor’s or higher degrees and additional 20,000 ones to those with master’s or higher degrees. However, due to the high volume of sponsorship applications, USCIS uses a lottery to keep the number within the quota and decide which applications to review. For the past few years, the chance of winning the lottery to allow your visa to be reviewed is slightly above one in three. If the application gets picked up through the lottery, it then goes into an extensive review process which could still end up with a denial.

Although he had success finding his first job in the United States, Hua said visa sponsorship is often the end of great conversations he had with recruiters or interviewers. If he wants to change jobs, he needs to apply for a visa transfer and that could be denied. In Hua’s opinion, many companies do not want to take risks of losing the recruit at the last minute.

“The visa transfer could get declined during the transfer process or renewal process. Because of these uncertainties, recruiters do not want these applicants,” he said.

Jin Ding, a program manager at the International Women’s Media Foundation, shared her story on Twitter that resonates with Hua's fear. Ding from Tianjin, China was a communications and inclusion manager at the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting until she moved to a new job this October. Her visa application was denied during the transfer process.

Sharing something personal before bedtime. I changed job recently. In that process, I had to re-apply an H1b visa with my new employer. It's called 'h1b transfer' but in fact it was a whole new application. Yesterday, it got rejected by the USCIS.

— Jin Ding 丁進 (@jinkding) November 14, 2019

“Sadly, this is also the reality of almost every Chinese journalist's life if they want to do their job and seek dreams overseas,” she wrote. “We could be losing status overnight and go back to where we came from. Like some trolls say on Twitter 'go back to China.’”

According to a recent investigation by Mother Jones and Reveal, H-1B first time denials as well as transfers and extension denials rates both increased under the Trump administration. The reports find “24 percent of first-time H-1B applications were denied through the third quarter of 2019 fiscal year, compared with 6 percent in 2015. In the 2015 fiscal year, only 3 percent of H-1B transfers and extensions...were denied.”

“If all international students were learning CS, then who would do the journalism?” - Myra Wu, USC journalism student from China

Hua hopes there could be more media attention and societal education toward the H-1B issue to raise awareness.

Karen Wang, a junior from Nanjing China studying journalism at USC, said she has heard about the lottery and knows how difficult the process is , but she does not know much about details or statistics.

“I had an assumption that I could get a job through my experience, internship and network,” she said. “I didn’t realize the institutional barrier.”

Wang said she is sure that she wants to pursue a journalism career in the United States, where the press has much more freedom than in China, but she admits that she knows very little about how hard it may be to get a visa to do just that. She said there was no education about the H1-B sponsorship system during her freshman and sophomore years.

Wang said she is sure that she wants to pursue a journalism career in the United States, where the press has much more freedom than in China, but she admits that she knows very little about how hard it may be to get a visa to do just that. She said there’s no education about the H1-B sponsorship system during her freshman and sophomore years.

“I didn’t know that when I came here. I think many people are driven by passion to pursue journalism,” Wang told me “[Knowing the visa system now] won’t change my career plan. Actually, I can’t change much now. Thinking positively, at least I am not finding all these out in my senior year because you are telling me now. That would be a huge hit to me and my parents.”

Eileen Chen, a USC freshman from Hefei, China, decided to study journalism because she thinks it’s a career that will allow her to learn more and more things about the world. Having realized the difference in the press environment between China and America, Chen who once thought she would go back to China to do journalism, now wants to find a career in the United States. However, she does not know much about the H-1B visa except of knowing that it's a lottery.

Chen said she has heard about the low representation of non-citizens in newsrooms. She believes the main causes are language and culture barriers. After hearing my statistics, Chen said, “I knew the numbers were not good, but I didn’t think they were such low.”

Myra Wu is a sophomore from China studying journalism and economics at USC. She also knows very little about the H1-B process. She heard it’s a lottery system and puts limitations on international students’ job opportunities. Wu said she does not understand why newsrooms would not want to have more non-citizens.

“We are living in a such globalized world. Having a more diverse staff is a great advantage, especially for the news reporting. It’s obviously helpful to have different views on the coverage. The benefits should way outweigh the cost, in my opinion,” she said.

Rose Tsai, an attorney based in California, provides counseling services to help international students prepare H1-B applications every year. She said some people would think companies hire foreign workers for cheap labor, but employers who are filing the sponsorship must set the salary for their job candidates at a “prevailing wage”, which is at least equal or even higher than the market. The sponsors also need to pay from $2,000 to $4,000, depending on the company’s size.

The high cost of H-1B visa application can discourage many small companies from applying, but the real burden is the wait time and uncertainty that scares many companies away from sponsoring H-1B visas, according to Tsai. She says that scares many companies away from sponsoring H-1B visas, there are other regulations as well. Wthin 90 days before and after the application, employers also cannot displace U.S. workers who are holding similar job titles, with certain exemptions, as an effort to prove that hiring foreigners will not affect U.S. workers’ wages and conditions. It takes one to two months to know whether the application is selected through the lottery process, and then the review process takes another two to six months. She adds that although USCIS says the company size doesn’t affect the chance of getting approvals, in practice, big companies with a stronger HR department and legal team have a better chance; however, they may still not be able to afford the long waiting period.

Wu said many of her friends chose STEM majors, instead of liberal arts major, due to visa concerns, but she does not want to do that due to her love of journalism.

“If all international students were learning CS, then who would do the journalism?” she asked.

I have been asked hundreds times whether I want to do journalism in the United States or in China. The answer has always been the former because the lack of press freedom in my home country simply does not allow me to practice journalism I believe at any level. Just like so many of my fellows, that's why I came to America. "Powerless" was my one-word response when I learned about the visa system and H-1B statistics of this industry I am so passionate about. Since then, I have had a new motivation:

It's 2 a.m. after a crazy production day. Why?
I have promised to myself: if one day I could not get H-1b visa to do journalism in America, my case needs to show and persuade everyone that the American dream system is problematic. It's not based on merits or talents.

— Kaidi “Ruby” Yuan (@YuanRuby) March 21, 2019