Visa Issues a Nightmare for U.S. Innovation

September 29, 2009

By Rachel Banks

Since 9/11, international students and scholars in the sciences have had to jump through major hurdles to get the visas they need to come to the United States – a six-month wait is all too familiar for some.

But, as two recent articles in the scientific journal Nature point out, this is about more than just "inconveniencing a few researchers and students seeking to work or study temporarily in the country." In US visa nightmares, members of Nature's Editorial Board write that "Over the years, the United States has benefited enormously from its ability to attract the most creative scientific minds from around the globe." Since the clampdown on visas, they write, the United States' innovative edge has been harmed.

The U.S. State Department, to its credit, has done a great deal to address visa concerns, and the situation is much improved. Still, the Nature article points out that in some cases, students and scholars are still getting caught in a lengthy process that leaves them thinking twice before seeking to come to the United States in the future.

In June, NAFSA was among a group of 31 science, academic, and engineering organizations that called on the federal government to address the remaining visa problems (read the statement here). But according to this latest article, "Despite recent efforts by federal agencies to improve and accelerate the visa-application process — including adding staff and setting shorter waiting times — it still needs legislative and regulatory reform, say those who are familiar with the system." NAFSA Senior Adviser for Public Policy Victor C. Johnson, cited in the article, urges an approach that strikes the right balance between control and openness: "The visa process should serve as a barrier to people with criminal or terroristic intent…But it should also be a gateway for people with the talent our economy and society requires."


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