A group of 40 academic, scientific and engineering organizations have
joined together in a newly-released statement that, while recommending
improvements to the visa application process for foreign students and
scientists, also acknowledges the reforms that have already taken place.
The American Institute of Physics and five of its Member Societies (the
American Physical Society, the American Association of Physics Teachers,
the American Astronomical Society, the American Geophysical Union, and
the Optical Society of America) have all signed the May 18 statement.
"Despite significant recent improvements to the U.S. visa system,"
the statement says, "considerable barriers remain that continue
to fuel the misperception that our country does not welcome these international
visitors, who contribute immensely to our nation's economy, national
security, and higher education and scientific enterprises." The
statement, which is directed at the White House and the State Department,
expresses "gratitude and support for the changes that have been
made" and recommends "additional improvements, so that America
can continue to compete for and welcome the world's best minds and talents."
As reported in previous FYIs, the federal government tightened restrictions
on foreign students and scientists applying for visas in the wake of
the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. These tighter restrictions,
coupled with insufficient staff and technology to handle the increased
workload, led to severe delays and backlogs in visa applications, and,
according to many reports, have fostered a perception that the U.S.
does not welcome international students and scholars.
Through efforts by the higher education and science communities, Members
of Congress, and federal officials, a number of actions have been taken
to address these problems in the last few years. In May of 2004, a group
of higher education and scientific organizations, led by the Association
of American Universities, the American Association for the Advancement
of Science, and the National Academies of Science and Engineering, issued
a statement (www.aau.edu/homeland/JointVisaStatement.pdf) that was influential
in raising the visibility of the issue and prompting improvements in
the process. Now, one year later, those same organizations, joined by
an even broader array of societies, have issued this new statement.
The statement recommends extending the validity of the type of security
check entitled Visas Mantis; allowing students and scientists to at
least begin a visa revalidation process before leaving the country;
renegotiating visa reciprocity agreements; developing a national strategy
to promote scientific exchange and study in the U.S.; and emphasizing
student applicants' "academic intent and financial means to complete
a course of study" rather than "their ability to demonstrate
evidence of a residence and employment in their home country."
Additionally, it opposes the requirement of export licenses for foreign
students and scientists using equipment that is needed "to conduct
unclassified, fundamental research."
The full text of the statement follows:
"Recommendations for Enhancing the U.S. Visa System
to Advance America's Scientific and Economic Competitiveness and National
"May 18, 2005
"Following the terrorist attacks of September 11,
2001, the U.S. government put in place new safeguards in the nation's
visa system that made it extremely challenging for bona fide international
students, scholars, scientists, and engineers to enter this country.
While intended to correct weaknesses exposed by the attacks, the changes
proved to be significant barriers for legitimate travelers and created
a misperception that these visitors were no longer welcome here.
"Other countries have used this opportunity to attract
these individuals to their own educational, scientific, and technical
institutions. In addition, key sending countries have enhanced their
higher education systems in an effort to keep their best students
"Despite significant recent improvements to the U.S.
visa system, considerable barriers remain that continue to fuel the
misperception that our country does not welcome these international
visitors, who contribute immensely to our nation's economy, national
security, and higher education and scientific enterprises. These misperceptions
must be dispelled soon, or we risk irreparable damage to our competitive
advantage in attracting international students, scholars, scientists,
and engineers, and ultimately to our nation's global leadership.
"One year ago, most of the undersigned organizations
of higher education, science, and engineering, in an effort to enhance
national security and international exchange made a joint commitment
to work with the federal government to make sensible changes to the
visa system (www.aau.edu/homeland/JointVisaStatement.pdf).
We recommended several improvements, some of which have been adopted
in the past year. Today we come together again to express gratitude
and support for the changes that have been made, to continue to urge
approval of those that have not, and to recommend additional improvements,
so that America can continue to compete for and welcome the world's
best minds and talents.
"We offer the following recommendations in the spirit
of cooperation that has already resulted in improvements to the visa
x "Extend the validity of Visas Mantis security
clearances for international scholars and scientists from the current
two-year limit to the duration of their academic appointment. While
we appreciate that the limit has already been extended from one year
to two years, this further extension would be comparable to that already
provided for international students and would prevent redundant security
checks that can waste resources and cause unnecessary delays and hardships.
x "Allow international students, scholars, scientists,
and engineers to renew their visas in the United States. Allowing
individuals to complete, or at least initiate, the visa revalidation
process before leaving the country to attend academic conferences
or to visit family would reduce, and in many cases eliminate, visa
delays, thus permitting them to continue their studies and research
x "Renegotiate visa reciprocity agreements between
the United States and key sending countries, such as China, to extend
the duration of visas each country grants citizens of the other and
to permit multiple entries on a single visa. We applaud the State
Department's initial efforts to achieve this and encourage continued
efforts. Improved reciprocity would allow the federal government to
focus its visa screening resources by reducing the number of visa
renewals that must be processed.
x "Amend inflexible requirements that lead to frequent
student visa denials. The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952
should place greater emphasis on student visa applicants' academic
intent and financial means to complete a course of study in the United
States, instead of their ability to demonstrate evidence of a residence
and employment in their home country and their intent to return home.
Up to 40 percent of student visa applicants from key sending countries
are rejected because they are unable to demonstrate to the satisfaction
of consular officials their intent and ability to return home after
completing their studies. The United States is losing too many top
students to this policy, and the Act should be revised.
x "Develop a national strategy to promote academic
and scientific exchange and to encourage international students, scholars,
scientists, and engineers to pursue higher education and research
opportunities in the United States. In addition to visa reforms, this
strategy should include a plan to counter prevailing negative perceptions
of studying and conducting research in the United States and should
promote study abroad by American students.
"The following recommendation, while not related
to visa issuance, addresses a potential barrier to international scientists
and engineers seeking to study and conduct research in the United
x "The federal government should not require that
export licenses be obtained for international scientists and engineers
to use equipment required to conduct unclassified, fundamental research
in the United States. The Department of Commerce is considering expanding
existing regulations to require that licenses be obtained before certain
foreign nationals are permitted access to specialized scientific equipment
required for unclassified, fundamental research. Requiring such licenses
would further discourage top international scientists and engineers
from making the United States their destination, prompting them to
seek research opportunities overseas.
"Lastly, it is essential that adequate resources
continue to be provided by Congress and the Administration to administer
an effective visa system and to implement the above recommendations.
"We reiterate our commitment to work with the federal
government to improve the visa system. That system should maintain
our nation's security by preventing entry by those who pose a threat
to the United States and encouraging the entry of the brightest and
most qualified international students, scholars, scientists, and engineers
to participate fully in the U.S. higher education and research enterprises.
Such a system will foster American scientific and economic competitiveness.
We commend the Administration for the improvements made to the visa
system to date, and we look forward to continuing to work together
for these further needed changes."