Earlier this month, the State Department opened up a public consultation and emergency review of supplementary questions for specified visa applicants including previous passport numbers; five years’ worth of email addresses, phone numbers and social media handles; and a 15-year address, travel and employment history.
“The notice sends a message to the global community that all international visitors may be viewed with suspicion”
Some 65,000 “immigrant and nonimmigrant visa applicants who have been determined to warrant additional scrutiny in connection with terrorism or other national security-related visa ineligibilities” would be affected, the State Department said.
But the “chilling effect” of the measures is likely to extend beyond those directly affected to all international travellers, according to a letter co-signed by 50 scientific and education organisations including NAFSA and the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers.
The “uncertainties and confusion” surrounding the proposed legislation will not only create logistical barriers to collaboration and mobility, but also project an unwelcoming image to the international community, the letter warns.
A lack of detail as to how the policy would be enacted could create “unacceptably long delays in processing”, it argues. The published document for consultation does not define which travellers would be subject to additional scrutiny or the consequences of submitting incomplete information.
Students, scholars, and scientific collaborators are especially likely to be deterred from coming to the US, it argues, in light of the negative worldwide media coverage of previous policy shifts.
“International students and researchers have choices and by adopting unclear and ill-defined visa requirements, the United States risks sending existing and potential partners and students elsewhere,” the letter states.
International students add more than $30bn to the economy annually, contribute to the “intellectual richness” of US universities and “serve as goodwill ambassadors” upon their return home, it adds.
It also predicts a dampening effect on international scientific and research collaboration.
Creating additional barriers to travel could mean foreign academics and scientists choose not to attend US-based conferences – often used as a basis for networking – or opt to hold high-level meetings in other countries, “hurting US economic, technological, and scientific competitiveness”, it warns.
Should the legislation be enacted, the government must put out positive messages and statements to ensure legitimate visitors, especially students, scholars and scientists, are “still welcomed and encouraged”, as well as equipping consulates with additional resources to handle the administrative burden of the additional questioning, the coalition urged.
“We appreciate and support the need to secure our nation and its citizens from individuals who seek to do us and our interests harm,” the letter reads.
“As an international educator I fear these changes will deter quality students from attending our programs”
“But we caution that this security need should be balanced with the need to remain open to those pursuing academic study and scientific research.”
Federal regulations mandate that the State Department must obtain approval from the Office of Management and Budget and invite public comment in order to enforce the proposed extra scrutiny on visa applicants.
“As an international educator I fear these changes will deter quality students from attending our programs. International students bring rich diversity to our college campuses and surrounding cities,” reads one comment.
“The process of admissions is tedious and complicated; adding more supplemental items to [the] already lengthy list of items would negatively impact the desire to study in the US,” says another from a director of international students at a private university.
A second letter signed by five educational organisations including the American Council on Education and the Association of American Universities, warns that in its current state, the legislation could “inadvertently choke our nation’s pipeline of international students and scholars”.
It describes the additional evidence requirements as “burdensome, difficult to meet, and likely to deter international students, scholars, scientists, and researchers from contributing their talents to the United States”.
And because the legislation was proposed through an emergency review, rather than the regular rule-making process, it lacks crucial details on areas such as reporting requirements and privacy protections, it states, adding: “Absent specific guidelines, clear visa classifications, or specific criteria outlined, the notice is vague and sends a message to the global community that all international visitors may be viewed with suspicion.”