NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


June 9, 2009

Of all the initiatives undertaken in the name of homeland security after 9/11, the visa screening requirements for foreign scientists and engineers have probably done the most lasting damage to America's economy -- particularly in the fields of science and technology, says Edward Alden, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and the author of "The Closing of the American Border: Terrorism, Immigration and Security Since 9/11."

Foreign students and researchers, especially from India and China, comprise more than half of the scientific researchers in the United States.  They earn 40 percent of the Ph.D.s in science and engineering, and 65 percent of the computer science doctorates.  If we drive them away, the companies that depend on such expertise will leave with them, taking thousands of other jobs that would have been filled by Americans.

Yet, Washington has started to recognize the damage, says Alden:

  • The Obama administration pledged to throw enough resources at the problem to reduce the months-long screening to no more than two weeks in most cases.
  • With the improvements that have been made in terrorist watch lists and other security screening tools, a decision on whether a visa applicant poses a threat should not take months.
  • In May, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that she would "streamline the visa process, particularly for science and technology students, so that even more qualified students will come here."

A lot of ground has been lost in the past eight years, however.  While foreign student applications were up sharply in 2007 and 2008, the United States largely missed out on the biggest boom in students studying abroad, especially at the graduate level.  Foreign student enrollment is about 25 percent below what it would have been had pre-9/11 trends continued, says Alden.

Source: Edward Alden, "Wanted: A Smarter Immigration Policy," Wall Street Journal, June 8, 2009.

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