KEEPING U.S. DOORS OPEN TO SCIENTISTS
House hearing looks at science student, scholar visa situation
The process for granting visas to foreign science students and scholars still has problems, but officials representing the Departments of Homeland Security and of State as well as the FBI told members of the House Science Committee they are working on ways to improve the system and reduce delays.
"The security regime that is in place is important and critical," said Asa Hutchinson, undersecretary of border and transportation security at DHS. "But clearly, we have system problems to work on, and there is work to be done to improve the process."
||DETAILS Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) (left) discusses visa issues with Hutchinson following the hearing.
PHOTO BY SUSAN MORRISSEY
Science Committee Chairman Sherwood L. Boehlert (R-N.Y.) noted that the visa process is moving in the right direction, but warned that a proper balance is needed between security and a thriving scientific enterprise. "A visa regime that casts too wide a net--that holds up just about everybody for excessive security checks--is not good for security or for science," he said.
The hearing also marked the release of a General Accounting Office report on ways to reduce the visa wait time for science students and scholars. The report (GAO-04-371) was requested by the committee last March.
According to the report, the average wait for security checks to be processed is 67 days. "State and FBI officials acknowledge that there have been lengthy waits but report having measures under way that they believe will improve the process and resolve outstanding cases," said Jess T. Ford, director of international affairs and trade at GAO.
The report recommends that the secretaries of state and homeland security and the director of the FBI set up a plan to improve the interagency security check that protects against sensitive technology transfer--known as Visas Mantis--to avoid unnecessary delays in issuing visas.