Strengthening U.S. Science Through International Collaboration

Sunday, 16 February 2014
Columbus IJ (Hyatt Regency Chicago)
Albert Teich , George Washington University, Washington, DC
Foreign-born scientists and engineers play a large and growing role in the vitality of  U.S. science and technology. The advent of rapid and inexpensive international communications and transportation are changing the way research is done, facilitating multi-national careers and collaborations. To maintain our scientific vitality, the U.S. visa and immigration systems need to respond to these trends. A number of issues must be addressed in order to facilitate the flow of foreign-born scientists, engineers, and STEM students to the U.S. for education, research visits, and conferences. This paper, based on a study of the U.S. visa and immigration systems as they affect foreign scientists, engineers, and students, suggests some avenues for accomplishing this.

Delays in visa processing, generally due to the security review process known as Visas Mantis, continue to be a major irritant in the system, especially after security was tightened following 9/11. Finding ways to speed up these reviews and make the process more transparent would go a long way toward smoothing the path for visa applicants without compromising security. Bringing more technical expertise to the consular level where decisions on Mantis reviews are made would help, as would providing applicants with at least some information about the status of their applications beyond the bland and opaque statement that they are undergoing “administrative processing.”

 An issue of particular importance to students from developing nations, especially China and India (which together account for 64% of foreign-born STEM students in the U.S), is the provision of immigration law known as 214(b), which requires all nonimmigrant visa applicants to show that they are not intending to use their visas as a “back door” to immigrate to the U.S. permanently. Some analysts contend that failure to satisfy this provision, which accounts for a large share of visa denials, is used by consular officers to misrepresent the basis of their decisions. Because many students change their minds after a few years in the U.S., a means to allow for that uncertainty—called “dual intent” in immigration policy—would make the process more honest as well as more equitable.

Other proposals that could help streamline procedures include providing consulates greater authority to waive personal interviews (currently mandatory), expanding the visa waiver program to more countries, and, more generally infusing the administrative and enforcement culture of the visa and immigration systems with a stronger service ethic.