Foreign propaganda outlets — including those from Russia and China — have used a visa program designed to attract highly skilled workers to the United States to place journalists, editors and producers in their American outposts, according to archives.

Why is it important: The H-1B program is designed to strengthen the competitiveness of the United States by providing American companies with educated workers from abroad. Government data shows it is also used to boost foreign state media operations on US soil.

  • Attention to foreign influence is high amid Russia’s disinformation campaign surrounding its invasion of Ukraine.
  • The data shows that Russian and Chinese state media profited from the H-1B program, as did a US outlet that worked with a state-funded Saudi broadcaster.

By the numbers: China is leading the way from afar, with H-1B visa approvals for state-owned media such as CCTV, People’s Daily, China Daily and Xinhua.

  • A People’s Daily H-1B application filed in 2020, shortly before its most recent approval, sought the visa of a “social media specialist.”
  • The outlet has worked with a Chinese security agency in recent years to search social media for information on “key personnel and organizations” in the United States and other countries, the Washington Post reported. last year.
  • Axios contacted 10 of the Chinese media outlets that have been approved for H-1B visas, as well as the Chinese Embassy in Washington, but received only one response.

Other Chinese Language Outlets who profited from the program have no official ties to the state, but have been accused of spreading pro-Beijing propaganda in the United States – frequently targeted at the Chinese diaspora community.

What they say : Sinovision Chairman Philip Chang disputed this characterization in an interview with Axios.

  • “It’s fake news, that’s all I’m saying,” he said.
  • Chang said Sinovision needed native Chinese employees because of the low number of journalists fluent in Mandarin in the United States.
  • “These kind of personnel are difficult to recruit in this country to start with,” he said.

The United States has a separate visa category for foreign journalists, but recently imposed limits on the use of this category by Chinese media.

  • Experts also told Axios that H-1B visas can offer more flexibility than the media-focused I visa, which strictly limits recipients’ work to newsgathering activities and generally has a shorter length of stay. .
  • “For long-term employees of a foreign media company, the H-1B visa is often a better option. [than the I visa] because it lasts three years and can be renewed – with the possibility that the worker can be sponsored for a green card,” according to Alex Nowrasteh, immigration policy expert at the Cato Institute.

The big picture: Many H-1B visa-approved outlets are frequent purveyors of disinformation aligned with U.S. adversaries.

Competition for H-1B visas is intense due to a strict cap on the number awarded each year.

Last month, USCIS announced that the cap had already been reached for fiscal year 2022.

  • Applicants must also undergo State Department vetting before visas are approved. “National security is our top priority when processing visa applications,” a state spokesperson told Axios.
  • “Every potential traveler to the United States is subject to thorough security screening. Denying entry to the United States to those who may pose a threat is essential to protecting American citizens here at home.”

Foreign media asked for these visas as other federal agencies take a closer look at government-aligned foreign media in the United States

  • US broadcaster of Russian propaganda channel RT America won approval for an H-1B visa in 2015, shortly before it was required to register under the People’s Registration Act. foreign officers. RT recently announced its intention to end its operations in the United States.
  • EDI Media, a California-based company that obtained USCIS visa approvals in 2019 and 2020, publishes the US edition of Xinmin Evening News. The United States regards Xinmin as a “foreign mission” of Beijing.

Another FARA-registered Chinese-language outlet, Sing Tao, has received more than 20 USCIS approvals since 2012.

  • Maine-based company Prime Time Media got just one approval in 2021 because it worked with a broadcaster funded by the Saudi government.
  • Elie Nakouzi, CEO of Prime Time Media, told Axios that the visa was for a Lebanese employee who predated the company’s work with the Saudi media outlet.
  • Records show work was completed in January.