Visa Restrictions and Scientific Progress

ACS Position Statement

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The American Chemical Society (ACS) supports visa policies that facilitate scientific education and exchange and welcome foreign scholars, students, scientists, and engineers. This includes timely and reasonable screening processes for visits, greater transparency of the application process, and the issuance and management of visas that are more aligned with the purpose of academic study and scientific exchange.

International scientists and engineers have been essential to the research enterprise and prosperity of the United States. Half of all physical sciences and engineering graduate students come from other nations, and the technological achievements of these visitors contribute immensely to our nation’s economy, national security, public health, higher education, and scientific enterprises.

Despite continuing improvements to the U.S. visa system, barriers and inefficiencies remain, and ACS recommends the following improvements to the approval process:

1. Improve the Flexibility of Visa Issuance

  • Extend the duration of the Visas Mantis security clearances for international scholars and scientists to match the length of their academic appointment and allow a multiple-reentry clearance option for those interested in attending scientific meetings in the United States. Further extension of the security clearance 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.
  • Improve the predictability and time required for processing visa applications for scientists traveling to participate in technical meetings and related events. These meetings are a crucial component of scientific exchange, and despite improvements to the visa process, scientists have had to cancel travel plans and turn down invitations to the extent that some international conferences have moved out of the United States. Special attention should be paid to improving the timely processing of visa applications for third- country nationals — often among the best and brightest attendees.
  • Develop mechanisms to facilitate routine re-entry by foreign students who travel outside of the United States. While the F-1 student visa allows individuals to remain in the United States past the duration of their visas as long as they maintain student status, they must reapply for a visa if they leave the United States, even for academic work or a family emergency. The chance of denial and time needed for processing often keep students in the United States out of fear of significantly disrupting their studies as they wait to reenter. Mechanisms should be developed to allow these students to apply for and receive a timely decision concerning re-entry before traveling from the United States and to provide the most routine re-entry decision possible in the case of emergency travel.
  • Amend inflexible requirements that lead to frequent student visa complications and denials. The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 currently places too much emphasis on residence and employment in the home country as evidence of student applicants’ intent and ability to return home after completing their studies. The application process should place greater emphasis on the academic intent and should better align to the requirements and culture of the academic settings in which these students are being educated.

2. Improve the Transparency of the Visa Process

The visa process should be as accessible, predictable, and respectful as possible

  • The Department of State should develop a system that allows visa applicants to track the status of the visa in real time.
  • Applicants whose visas have been denied should receive a timely opportunity to appeal the decision and correct any deficiencies in their application. Visa denials should be issued with an explanation of the reason for the denial.
  • The Technology Alert List that triggers the Visa Mantis process is not necessarily the most current or technically informed list, which can lead to the unnecessary flagging of some applications for Visa Mantis. While the list is not available for public comment, it should be reviewed regularly for technologies that are not classified and can be easily obtained through other channels.
  • Government officials involved in the process of granting visas should be trained to assure the best possible understanding of the purposes of international scientific travel and study.

3. Develop a National Strategy

A national strategy should be developed to promote academic and scientific exchange and encourage international students, scholars, scientists, and engineers to pursue higher education and research opportunities in the United States.

The visa system should maintain our national security and interests by preventing the entry of 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 would foster American scientific and economic competitiveness.

We commend the federal government for the improvements made to the visa system to date, and we look forward to continuing to work together for these further needed changes.