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U.S. visa change could impact chemists

State Department would collect more personal information for some applicants

by Andrea Widener
May 10, 2017 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 95, Issue 20

More Personal Information on Visa Applications

The Department of State is requesting comment on a proposal to expand the information it collects on visa applications

New Information

Social media platform handles

Names and birthdates of siblings

Names and birthdates of children*

Expanded from 5 to 15 years

Travel history, including source of funding and, in some cases, where within a country

Address history

Employment history

* New for most applications

Source: U.S. State Department

Some foreign scientists who want to travel to the U.S. may have to provide far more information in visa applications than they do now, under a White House proposal.

Last week the State Department released a plan to expand its collection of visa information such as social media handles and family connections for some travelers seeking both visitor and immigrant visas. The move was in response to a March 6 executive order by President Donald J. Trump.

The proposal would affect applicants who “warrant additional scrutiny in connection with terrorism or other national security-related visa ineligibilities,” according the announcement. The State Department estimates 65,000 applicants would be affected. That represents a small fraction of the 10 million visas that were issued in 2016.

The policy could impact chemists who want to come to the U.S., especially students and those attending American Chemical Society meetings, says Glenn Ruskin, director of ACS’s Office of Public Affairs. The ACS national meeting earlier this year in San Francisco, for example, had 3,099 international participants, around a sixth of the attendees.

“People are coming from around the world,” Ruskin says. If there are visa changes, “what impact will that have on the discourse and exchange?”

Brendan Delaney, an immigration lawyer who works with scientists through the National Postdoctoral Association, says it is unclear who would be asked for the additional information. “What is going to warrant this heightened scrutiny? It seems to be fairly subjective,” he says.

Some scientists already get extra attention, Delaney explains, especially if their research is in an area that could be considered sensitive. He suggests the best thing researchers can do to avoid problems is apply for their visas early.

ACS, which publishes C&EN, is especially worried about the new emphasis on collecting social media information, since some scientific information in posts could be misinterpreted. “The easiest thing to do if you are unfamiliar with the subject is to just deny the person,” Ruskin says.

ACS plans to send in a comment on the proposal, Ruskin says.



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