Tuesday, January 15, 2008

ISCB Members and US Visas

The International Society for Computational Biology (ISCB) is concerned about the ability of non-US scientists to participate in scientific meetings and research in the US. We believe this exchange of ideas benefits the scientific enterprise as well as the countries and individuals involved.

We have heard reports of ISCB members who are not non-US citizens having trouble coming to the US to work or study, and also having trouble leaving to visit family or attend scientific meetings (because it is hard to get back into the US). While the situation has improved over the last few years, there remain problems.

We have an opportunity, through our relationship with FASEB, to contribute to testimony in front of the House Science Committee in February about scientists' problems with visas. Your feedback must be in our hands by 25th January, 2008, in order for it to be useful in the Committee hearing. However, we will use any information we receive after that date for further advocacy, so please do not hesitate to send it in.

Can you help us by telling us of problems you or your colleagues have experienced with entry into the US? Please send email to policy@iscb.org (preferred, so that we can gather additional information from you if necessary), or post your experiences here (especially if you'd like to remain anonymous), or both.

We are particularly interested in answers to the following questions:

1) Are you experiencing delays getting visas or outright rejections of your applications?
2) Are you seeing this problem from particular countries?
3) Specifically, what problems are people experiencing (i.e., difficulty getting consular appointments; delays in application processing; denial of visas; problems with US-VISIT system)?
4) For each problem, is it due to visa applicants not following the existing guidelines and restrictions (such as not applying far enough ahead of time, failing to schedule a consular interview, providing incomplete applications, country-specific single entry reciprocity agreements), or is the problem a failure of the US immigration system to follow its own policies?
5) What change, if any, do you feel we ought to advocate?

ISCB urges its members who have had problems to contact the National Academies International Visitors Office (http://www7.nationalacademies.org/visas/index.html), and fill out the questionnaire. This office has been very helpful at interceding behind the scenes on behalf of scientists with the Dept. of State and Homeland Security. And the data they generate is very useful for making the case for improved visa processing.

Thank you,
The ISCB Public Affairs Committee