Watchdog Q&A

Published — July 17, 2020

Q&A: Kaidi “Ruby” Yuan on barriers facing non-citizens in US journalism



Tightened visa restrictions are making it harder for non-U.S. citizens to study and find work in America — and that was even before the latest head-turning moves by the Trump administration.   

This week we talk to Kaidi “Ruby” Yuan, a recent University of Southern California graduate now interning at the Los Angeles Times, about the particular challenges facing foreigners vying for U.S. journalism jobs. 

(*Interview condensed & lightly edited for clarity)

You wrote a piece on how it feels nearly impossible to get visas to work as journalists in America. What did you find?

My analysis shows that the vast majority of U.S. newsrooms filed 10 or fewer H1-B visa sponsorships for journalism-related jobs in the past three years. Given that there are around 22k-24k international students in the United States with a major in communications and journalism, that’s really low, especially considered against applications for software developers, accountants or auditors.

Some might argue that that’s reflective of current media conditions where many American journalists are losing jobs. Do you think that’s fair? 

I would argue that has a dangerous premise by assuming non-citizen journalists are burdens to the newsroom. It’s the same argument that having a diverse and inclusive newsroom is something to be considered only during good times. When a non-citizen journalist joins a U.S. newsroom, the journalist is bringing their valuable and unique perspective in addition to all kinds of stated job qualifications. For example, it’s very frustrating and disappointing to see the coverage of COVID-19 from major U.S. news media in February, March and April, such as asymptomatic transmission and usage of the face mask. During those three months, almost nothing reported by the U.S. media about COVID-19 was news to the Chinese people. In March and April, parents and grandparents in China could not believe American people and media treated asymptomatic transmissions and wearing face masks as new findings. These perspectives, not just related to foreign or cultural stories but also related to mindsets and creativity, are valuable assets of solving the crisis that the news industry is facing.

How’d you get interested in journalism, and what made you think about studying it and pursuing it in America?

I grew up in Wuhan, China, and I was always interested in history and politics.  But I didn’t want to already have it censored for me by the Great Firewall. In China, you quickly learn, for exams, to answer a certain way for history questions — that’s how you get points — but I think some questions should have open-ended questions. Then I came to U.S for high school and started enjoying the high school paper. It got me interested and excited about finding information that others don’t know about. I’m a person who values reputation or fame more than money.

I love journalism and want a journalism career in the United States. It’s my passion and dream. I’ve worked really hard to win awards and scholarships to help my cause, but the tremendous amount of work and risk has made me stop recommending other international students major in this field. The barriers are just too high. The situation is more difficult for those who are from countries like China, where the media environment is drastically different. If I end up going back to China, I will not be a journalist. I’ll maybe do PR or consulting.

Read more in Inside Public Integrity

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