|Are Visa Rules Hurting US Science?|
The Issue: Are new anti-terrorism restrictions on visas hurting U.S. science, engineering and medicine?
Background: In a recently issued statement, the National Academy of Sciences contends that newly heightened security policies on issuance of visas, intended to prevent the flow of foreign terrorists into the U.S. are actually preventing the flow of international knowledge, vital to advancements of the sciences in the U.S.
"The professional visits of foreign scientists and engineers and the training of highly qualified foreign students are important for maintaining the vitality and quality of the U.S. research enterprise," stated National Academy of Sciences President Bruce Alberts. "This research, in turn, underlies national security and the health and welfare of both our economy and society."
The scientists' arguments
Representatives of the National Academy claim to have collected evidence from the U.S. scientific community revealing that heightened visa restrictions have had the following results:
- ongoing research collaborations between U.S. and foreign experts are being hampered;
- outstanding young foreign scientists, engineers, and health researchers have been prevented from or delayed in entering this country;
- important international conferences have been canceled or negatively impacted; and
- such conferences will be moved out of the United States in the future if the situation is not corrected.
The list of those who have been prevented from entering the United States, say the scientists, includes scholars asked to speak at major conferences, distinguished professors invited to teach at our universities, and even foreign associates of our Academies. It includes research collaborators for U.S. laboratories whose absence not only halts projects, but also compromises commitments made in long-standing international cooperative agreements. It includes scientists from countries such as Iran and Pakistan whose exclusion from this country blocks our efforts to build allied educational and scientific institutions in those parts of the world. Perhaps most seriously, the list also includes large numbers of outstanding young graduate and postdoctoral students who contribute in many ways to the U.S. research enterprise and our economy.
"Throughout our history, this nation has benefited enormously from an influx of foreign-born scientists and engineers whose talents and energy have driven many of our advances in scientific research and technological development," say the scientists. " Over half a century ago, Albert Einstein, Enrico Fermi, and many others from Western Europe laid the foundations for our global leadership in modern science."
Noting that much of the research being impeded by the visa rules contributes directly to national security, the scientists contend, "To make our nation safer, it is extremely important that our visa policy not only keep out foreigners who intend to do us harm, but also facilitate the acceptance of those who bring us considerable benefit." Prompt corrective action is needed, argue the scientists.
How the scientists would correct the problem
With a goal of streamlining the visa process without compromising security, the scientific community offered to work with the U.S. government in coming up with solutions including:
- Reinstating a procedure of pre-security clearance for scientists and engineers with the proper credentials;
- Instituting a special visa category for established scientists, engineers, and health researchers; and
- Involving the U.S. scientific and technical community in determining areas of particular security concern.
In short, argues the National Academy, the U.S. scientific, engineering, and health communities cannot hope to maintain their present position of international leadership if they become isolated from the rest of the world. "We seek the help of the U.S. government in implementing effective and timely screening systems for issuing visas to qualified foreign scientists and students who bring great benefit to our country. We view this as an urgent matter, one that must be promptly addressed if the United States is to meet both its national security and economic development goals."