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SPIE joins in urging more U.S. visa process review and changes

11 June 2009

BELLINGHAM, Washington, USA -- SPIE is among a group of science, academic, and engineering organizations urging the federal government in a statement issued yesterday to take additional steps to improve the visa process for international students, scholars, and scientists. The recommendations include creation of a high-level interagency panel to review all the government's post-9/11 visa policies and procedures.

"Lengthy and unnecessary delays frustrate and discourage many of the best and brightest international students, scholars, and scientists from studying and working in the United States, or attending academic and scientific conferences here and abroad," the statement asserts.

The statement also praises recent actions taken by the federal government to address concerns of the academic and scientific communities. It expresses appreciation for actions taken by the Departments of Homeland Security and State this month to streamline the security review process known as Visa Mantis, eliminating the current backlog of applications and reducing wait times for the international science students and researchers subject to that review.

M. J. Soileau (University of Central Florida), chair of the SPIE committee on Engineering, Science, and Technology Policy, said it is important for U.S. companies to be able to attract high-quality personnel from all over the world. "Talent in knowledge-based companies must be able to move freely across international borders for these companies to maintain competitiveness," he said. "Easy, efficient, sensible visa processes an policies are absolutely critical."

SPIE President Maria Yzuel said she is proud that SPIE has endorsed the statement. "Students and researchers will benefit from shortening the visa process," she said. "This is crucial for attending conferences where scientists share their research and benefit from networking at an international level. It's very important to have a reasonable policy in facilitating the free exchange of scientific information." Yzuel, a professor at Spain's Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, visits the United States regularly for scientific meetings.

"It is important that foreign students who study at universities in the U. S. feel secure during their period of study and have the freedom to travel to and from their homeland. Student interchange is not only important for scientific and cultural progress in this era of open innovation, but for international understanding," Yzuel said.

The signing organizations recommended that the federal government build on these positive actions to improve the visa process by:

  • Convening a high-level interagency panel to review the full range of visa-related policies and procedures imposed after 9/11.
  • Providing additional resources to agencies involved in the visa process to allow timely processing.
  • Streamlining the non-immigrant visa process to 30 days for legitimate graduate students, researchers, or professionals in science and technology whose applications are supported by qualified universities or other institutions
  • Reducing repetitive processing of visa applications for well-known researchers and scholars who regularly visit the United States to attend academic conferences and conduct research.
  • Increasing training of consular staff to make treatment of applicants more consistent and enhance security.
  • Providing more information and establishing a review process for applicants who experience lengthy delays.
  • Reviewing and streamlining the Technology Alert List, which identifies sensitive areas of science and technology for possible export controls.
  • Expanding ongoing efforts to renegotiate visa reciprocity agreements between the United States and key countries.

The joint statement can be found here.

SPIE is the international optics and photonics society, founded in 1955 to advance light-based technologies. Serving more than 188,000 constituents from 138 countries, the Society advances emerging technologies through interdisciplinary information exchange, continuing education, publications, patent precedent, and career and professional growth. SPIE annually organizes and sponsors approximately 25 major technical forums, exhibitions, and education programs in North America, Europe, Asia, and the South Pacific. In 2008, the Society provided $1.9 million for scholarships, grants, and other activities supporting research and education around the world. For more information, visit SPIE.org.


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