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Cell biologists say immigration reform critical to scientific education and competitiveness

BETHESDA, MD, MAY 2, 2013Progress in American scientific research and reform in American immigration law must go hand in hand, the American Society for Cell Biology (ASCB) declared today in a position paper that outlines four recommendations for modernizing U.S. immigration policy.

"Despite having the best research and educational institutions in the world, existing US immigration laws serve as a significant hurdle for retaining the world's most promising scientists and for diversifying the US biomedical workforce and bioeconomy," the ASCB warned in a preface to its four proposals.

  • 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 continued studies can require an H-1B visa but as long as two years outside the U.S. before eligibility for return.

  • 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.

"Science is essentially a global enterprise, and it was so long before globalization permeated so many sectors of human activity," said ASCB Executive Director Stefano Bertuzzi. "It is very important that we facilitate the circulation of brains and ideas to and from the United States. It is certainly not in our own interest to train the best and the brightest and then force them to leave, it is innovation and innovative minds that will get us out of the economic hole."

"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, Co-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."


Contact: Kevin Wilson
American Society for Cell Biology

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