We should all be worried about this. Science and engineering students and postdocs from abroad are finding it more difficult to get visas, and experiencing longer delays. This is making researchers increasingly unwilling to study or schedule conferences in the US — we can no longer assume we’re the rest of the world’s first choice. As Danielle Guichard-Ashbrook of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology put it: “There are other countries that want these folks. They are the best of the best. They have other options.” Since Sept. 11, stricter security procedures have been hard on scientists trying to work here, especially in national labs that now have policies discriminating against some foreigners. If you’re unlucky enough to be a scientist from somewhere like Iran, you could be handcuffed, interrogated, mistreated, and detained in prison cells after you thought you’d obtained a visa. The UK has already started revising visa rules to help visiting scientists — will we follow suit?
The main cause of delays is a requirement, since Sept. 11, that each reviewing agency give a thumbs-up to the visa candidate. (Before 9/11, a visa could be granted if no agency objected within 10 days.) One remedy would be to hire more reviewers, or to rely more on the scientific community’s judgment by speeding the visa process if a U.S. university or scientific association can vouch for the foreign researcher.
Related: a miserably hilarious chart on the U.S. immigration process.