Issue Date: June 29, 2009
ACS Documents Visa Problems
Additional national security review of foreign scientists' visa requests has been the primary cause of visa delays, according to new data released last week by the American Chemical Society. The data give weight to a June 10 statement by stakeholders in the visa-granting process that foreign scientists face unconscionable delays in receiving visas to attend meetings or engage in scientific collaboration in the U.S.
The ACS report includes data from more than 3,800 foreign registrants of the past three ACS national meetings. Although the number of foreign scientists who must apply for a visa to attend an ACS meeting is small—only about one-third of those surveyed—the numbers "peel the onion" on what is happening in terms of visa delays and denials, says Bradley Miller, director of the ACS Office of International Activities.
For example, Miller says, the report shows that scientists who face the most trouble obtaining a U.S. visa tend to be those working in a foreign country—so called third-country nationals—who want to come to the U.S. on a temporary visa. An example would be a Chinese scientist working at an Australian university who wants to attend an ACS national meeting.
The majority of foreign scientists who want to enter the U.S. on temporary visas have no problem doing so, Miller and other sources say, a fact supported by the ACS data. But many others confront significant delays or denials when their applications are flagged for further national security review, Miller and officials at the National Academies point out. The National Academies collects reports of visa delays and denials.
An official at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which oversees visa policy, says that the problems many foreign scientists have confronted in obtaining visas are a thing of the past. He says most visas are now issued within two weeks of an application, and a backlog of visa requests has been cleared.
The stakeholders, which include many research institutions and scientific societies such as ACS, have pressured DHS and the State Department to make the visa-processing system more transparent, efficient, and streamlined. Currently, the process involves an interview and can require extensive documentation and interagency security review.
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