Academies' Presidents Comment on U.S. Visa Policies

Statement from
Bruce Alberts, President, National Academy of Sciences
Wm. A. Wulf, President, National Academy of Engineering
Harvey Fineberg, President, Institute of Medicine

May 13, 2004

We believe that implementation of the proposals made in the May 12 statement about U.S. visa policies -- issued jointly by 25 national education, science, and engineering organizations -- would resolve many of the urgent problems posed by the nation's current policies. We are pleased to be among the signers of this important document.

Several points of special interest to our research communities, however, are not addressed explicitly in this document. We list them here for consideration by the government agencies that are concerned with these issues.

· We believe there is a compelling need for a special visa -- most likely an expansion of the O visa -- for foreign scientists and engineers who are well-known to the research community, who have proven track records as participants in international research activities, and who need to make multiple visits to the United States. Such scientists and engineers should be eligible for long-term, multiple-entry visas; and they should be able to revalidate those visas from within the United States. Requiring such scientists to submit repeated visa applications has added substantially to the costly delays in the system without improving national security.

· The screening tools that are used to identify visa applicants who might pose threats to the United States must be specific to those threats, and must be used by consular officials who understand the relevant technical considerations. Specifically, the Technology Alert List, which identifies sensitive fields of research and is used by consular officials to determine the need for "Visas Mantis" security checks, is too broad in its definitions and is of questionable benefit.

· Our visa processing system should be informed by scientific and technical experts who are able to evaluate the potential threats and the technical merits of individual cases. We offer the assistance of the National Academies in providing documentation for foreign citizens who are working with our scientists and engineers, in providing advice on which technical specialties might actually be sensitive and therefore require careful monitoring, and in providing information about scientific meetings and educational events.

In order to stay secure and prosperous, our nation must remain open to the best scientists and engineers from around the world. Our visa processing system not only must provide genuine security against those who might do us harm, but also keep our borders open to the stream of scientific and technical talent that fuels our progress. While no visa system can completely eliminate all risk, we believe an enhanced visa process can provide many benefits to our nation and to our security without materially affecting the risks we face. Because of the urgency of the present problems, we intend to give highest priority to working with federal agencies to achieve these goals.

Bruce Alberts
President, National Academy of Sciences

Wm. A. Wulf
President, National Academy of Engineering

Harvey V. Fineberg
President, Institute of Medicine

For additional information on visa issues, please go to the National Academies' International Visitors' Office.