Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Foreign researchers and immigration policies

Chris Mooney points to a new ACLU report titled 'Science Under Siege: The Bush Administration’s Assault on Academic Freedom and Scientific Inquiry'. One of the sections talks about post 9/11 visa policies and how they've affected the academic community. Along with a long list of the new hoops that visitors have to jump through in order to visit the US (and this doesn't even include the new "export controls" that restrict the topics foreign researchers can work on), there are personal stories that are probably depressingly familiar to us:
In 2003, Elena Casacuberta, a postdoctoral student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) returned to Spain for winter break. Elena had renewed her work visa three times since she had been coming and going to the United States starting in 2000, so she did not anticipate any problems. Five months later, Elena was still in Spain, awaiting Visa Mantis security clearance. In the meanwhile, her NIH-funded research on the genetics of fruit flies was put on hold indefinitely.
In May 2004, Reza Chamanara, an Iranian postdocteral fellow in the department of mathematics at Indiana University , left for England to give a lecture and found himself blocked from returning to the United States Seven months later, university administrators were still unable to get an answer from the FBI as to why his visa renewal was being held up and whether he would be able to return.
Add to this the example of Chinese students on F-1 visas, who are given single-entry six month student visas to enter the US. This basically means that if they ever have to travel outside the US to present a paper at a conference, they have to return to China and re-apply for a visa (unless all travel is compressed in a six-month window). [Update: As of June 20, 2005, they are now being issued 12 month multiple entry visas. Thanks, Dan Li]

Virginia Postrel points to a Steve Forbes editorial in Forbes magazine critiquing the government on this issue (Forbes is a conservative Republican; this is not a "red-blue" issue). She also quotes an Indian-born researcher colleague who says "For the first time, I feel like a foreigner in this country".

Sadly, even though I spend my time amongst the most diverse group of people one can imagine, I have to agree. For an entertaining and yet disturbing story of life in the US post 9/11, listen to Act I from this episode of This American Life.


  1. Suresh, visas have always been a problem for Chinese students studying in the US and the situation is getting better. I came to the states in 2003 which is said to be the hardest time to get a US visa--maybe only 10% students passed through. Anyway, since 2004 it's much easier to get a visa for Chinese students. One week ago, U.S. Embassy in Beijing just announced the extension of the term of validity for student visas. The visas will be valid for 12 months with multiple entries. You may find detailed info on this site: http://www.usembassy-china.org.cn/press/release/2005/061405vis.html 

    Posted by Dan Li

  2. I don't think you make a case here.

    Basically, you are saying that some people are inconvenienced by security controls across the US border. Fine. So what is so wrong with the controls in place?


    Posted by Paul Deignan

  3. The issue is many-fold (The ACLU doc I link to has more on this). First of all, many of the security features are new, and not well publicizied, causing all kinds of confusion for people who need to navigate their way around the system.

    Secondly, there is a severe lack of manpower at the USCIS. What this means is that new regulations are proposed, new paperwork is required, and delays in processing travel documents gets longer and longer. When the time taken to process a student visa is so long that the student has to either defer admission for a year, or give up and go to another country, I'd say there is a problem.

    Posted by Suresh

  4. Hi Paul Deignan,

    I saw your post today. Thanks for your comments. I don't think there is anything wrong with the controls in place, they are required after September 11 in order to prevent terrorism. I do not recall saying there is anything wrong with the controls in place?



    Posted by Mehmet Serkan Apaydin

  5. Sorry for responding to an old post. I know of an Indian student who went back to India to finalise his marriage (with his girlfriend who also studying at that time in our University - TAMU). We were all in the Aerospace Dept. He also had to renew his visa. His visa wasn't renewed and he was asked to get clearance from DRDO. To my knowledge he wasn't involved in any confidential defense related research, though he may have been funded by NSF or DARPA or AFOSR etc.

    His advisor and other faculty members from the department sent numerous letters to the consulate in Chennai, but to no avail. He finally got his visa and came back, a year after he had left on vacation to India.  

    Posted by Rajagopal


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