Recommendations for Enhancing the U.S. Visa System to Advance America's Scientific and Economic Competitiveness and National Security Interests 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 at home.
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. 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 system:
Ø 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.
Ø 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 uninterrupted.
Ø 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.
Ø 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.
Ø 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 States.
Ø 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.
Nils Hasselmo President Association of American Universities . Alan I. Leshner President American Association for the Advancement of Science
Bruce Alberts President National Academy of Sciences
David Ward President American Council on Education
C. Peter Magrath President National Association of State Universities and Land Grant Colleges
Wm. A. Wulf President National Academy of Engineering
Harvey V. Fineberg President Institute of Medicine
Deborah L. Wince-Smith President Council on Competitiveness
Marlene M. Johnson Executive Director and CEO NAFSA: Association of International Educators
Marvin L. Cohen President American Physical Society
Debra W. Stewart President Council of Graduate Schools
Allan E. Goodman President and CEO Institute of International Education
Constantine W. Curris President American Association of State Colleges and Universities
James M. Tiedje, Ph.D. President American Society for Microbiology
Jerry P. Draayer President and CEO Southeastern Universities Research Association
Paul W. Kincade, Ph.D. President Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology
Gerard A. Alphonse 2005 President The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers - United States of America
David L. Warren President National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities
Eugene Arthurs Executive Director SPIE--The International Society for Optical Engineering
Stephen Dunnett President Association of International Education Administrators
Rev. Charles L. Currie, SJ President Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities
Sally T. Hillsman, Ph.D. Executive Officer American Sociological Association
Judith Bond President American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology
Katharina Phillips President Council on Governmental Relations
George R. Boggs President and CEO American Association of Community Colleges
Marc H. Brodsky Executive Director and CEO American Institute of Physics
Felice J. Levine Executive Director American Educational Research Association
James E. Morley, Jr. President and CEO National Association of College and University Business Officers
Roger Bowen General Secretary American Association of University Professors
Norman B. Anderson, Ph.D. Chief Executive Officer American Psychological Association
Richard S. Dunn Co-Executive Officer American Philosophical Society
Mary Maples Dunn Co-Executive Officer American Philosophical Society
Richard L. Ferguson CEO and Chairman of the Board ACT
John A. Orcutt President American Geophysical Union (AGU)
Jerome H. Sullivan Executive Director American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers
Steven Block President The Biophysical Society
Elizabeth A. Rogan CEO Optical Society of America
Richard W. Peterson President American Association of Physics Teachers
Alyson Reed Executive Director National Postdoctoral Association
Robert P. Kirshner President The American Astronomical Society