Foreign Scientists Welcome, Sort Of

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The age of globalized industry should result in fewer barriers between countries, but in practice it is rarely that straightforward, according to a report by ScienceInsider.

The age of globalized industry should result in fewer barriers between countries, but it is rarely that straightforward in practice. At the India–US Strategic Dialogue held in New Dehli on July 19, 2011, India’s junior science minister Ashwani Kumar complained to US presidential science adviser John Holdren that a new US visa policy is hampering the ability of Indian scientists to travel to the United States, according to a report by ScienceInsider. Kumar asked that the procedure be streamlined. Indian scientists, even top aides to the government, are now required to renew their visa annually, but they previously could obtain a multiple-entry visa every 5 to 10 years. This change makes it difficult for Indian scientists to attend conferences in the US or engage in any other frequent, short-duration travel without attending to yearly paperwork. “I understand the visa issue is a problem and a challenge, and we hope to improve it,” said Holdren, according to ScienceInsider.

The United Kingdom has also been busy erecting barriers to foreign scientists. On July 20, 2011, the UK border agency created a new category of visa, called Tier 1 “exceptional talent.” The category is limited to 1000 visas, and each applicant must be vetted by a member of a nationally recognized expert body to ensure that he or she is an expert in their field and an exceptional talent. The Royal Society can nominate 300 scientists for the visas, and the Royal Academy of Engineering can nominate 200. The visas will allow individuals to work in the UK for an initial period of three years and four months, with a possible extension of two years and a permanent settlement option. The visas do not apply to early-career scientists, such as postdoctoral scientists.


Although the Royal Society agreed to work with the border agency on this initiative, it is not happy in its role as gatekeeper for immigrant scientists. Paul Nurse, president of the Royal Society, told ScienceInsider that the organization does not believe that the number of scientifically talented individuals permitted to work in the United Kingdom should be restricted. He also said that the society would be monitoring the effectiveness of the program, and if it proved to be a real barrier for qualified scientists’ entry into the UK, that they would inform the border agency. “We’re very concerned this will be bureaucratic and laborious and that will put people off even on short-term visits, so we’re looking at it with significant concerns,” says Nurse. “I don’t know any research scientist who has any support for this scheme. It only seems to be making difficulties.”