Visa Problems for Scientists Get Worse

Since 9/11 the difficultly that foreign scientists have experienced in getting visas to come to the US have gone from annoying to not worth the trouble. Today’s Washington Post has a story on the science adviser to the Prime Minister of India being denied a visa due to his expertise in chemistry.

The incident has also caused embarrassment at the highest reaches of the American scientific establishment, which has worked to get the State Department to issue a visa to Goverdhan Mehta, who said the U.S. consulate in the south Indian city of Chennai told him that his expertise in chemistry was deemed a threat.

Physicists in the US would like to host the next major international particle accelerator, the International Linear Collider, in the US. This very large project would be the only one of its kind in the world and would be built jointly by nations from all over the world, but no nation is going to contribute to a major facility in the US, unless it is sure that its researchers will have straightforward access to the facility.

The officials at the consulates around the world who issue visa do not seem to the have expertise needed to tell a respected scientist from a terrorist.

“Making the wrong decision would be career-ending, so they play it safe, not really understanding the macroscopic implications of their decision,” Wulf said. “Denying a visa to the president of ICSU is probably as dumb as you can get. This is not the way we can make friends.”

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