Newswise — BETHESDA, MD, February 2, 2017— Current American immigration policies often thwart fruitful scientific collaborations between nations and force promising STEM trainees out of the U.S. after graduation. To reverse this trend and to foster a thriving collaborative scientific community in the United States, the American Society for Cell Biology (ASCB) urges lawmakers to heed four practical recommendations set forth in an undated position paper for modernizing U.S. immigration policy.
The most significant scientific breakthroughs were made possible due to collaborations at the interface of disciplines, with many of these partnerships crossing international borders. Furthermore, in 2015 the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement reported there were more than 400,000 international students enrolled in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) studies at American academic institutes**.
“The United States scientific enterprise is strong because we have benefited from the amazing brain power and hard work of scientists who immigrate to the US for their training,” said ASCB executive director Erika Shugart. “It is important that international students who have graduated from our programs have the freedom to choose to stay in the U.S. to continue their work, regardless from which country they originate.”
By its nature, science is a global endeavor and the numbers attest to this fact. In the opening paragraphs of ASCB’s position paper, it states “… the number of international collaborators on research papers has increased nearly three-fold, from 8% in 1988 to 23% in 2009. Not surprisingly, therefore, between 1995 and 2010 collaborations between U.S. researchers and scientists in other nations more than doubled.” In response these realities, ASCB urges the framers of immigration policy to follow these four recommendations:
• Restrictions on foreign travel by visa holders should be eased. The international nature of science requires that researchers travel abroad. Yet very often, travel restrictions on foreign nationals hinder opportunities for their professional advancement, including attending international scientific meetings or collaborating with international colleagues. This pervasive problem not only hurts training but also impedes scientific exchange.
• Visa duration should be matched with expected training time. Many international graduate students first enter with an F-1 visa and continue into postdoctoral training with a J-1. But to complete their studies, they may be required to return to their home countries and put their research on hold for as long as two years before becoming eligible to even apply for the H-1B visa.
• The number of H-1B visas should be based on market demands. While H-1B visa applications are skyrocketing, the number of new visas has been flat. To remain competitive internationally, our research labs and other scientific enterprises need freer access to the global high-skill labor market.
• Foreign students should receive green cards upon completion of their studies. The current system makes it difficult for those who are trained here to stay and be productive members of our society. Too often, U.S.-trained and -funded international students must return to their home country to compete against the nation that trained them instead of remaining in the U. S. to strengthen our bioeconomy. In other words, we grow the crop, and then we give the food away for free. Therefore, we recommend that those international students who receive a doctorate in a scientific discipline, including biomedical research, from a U.S. teaching institution should have the option of remaining in the U. S. with a green card.
“The increasing globalization of science makes it even more critical that the United States pay close attention to the health of our domestic scientific enterprise,” said Connie Lee, Chair of the ASCB Public Policy Committee, which drafted the position paper. “American science has blossomed in no small part because so much of the world’s top talent has been attracted here by our resources, our skill, and our freedom of inquiry. Our future requires that we keep our laboratories, our universities, and our minds open to the best the world has to offer. To do that, we urgently need to reform our obsolete and counterproductive policies on scientific immigration and travel.”
The full text with charts of the ASCB position paper on US immigration reform is available at http://www.ascb.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/2017-immigration-whitepaperrevisedFINALforweb.pdf