Innovation and Research Suffer When Visa Rules Keep Scientists at Home

It is becoming increasingly difficult for people – particularly those from the developing world and the global south – to move around the globe. The UK voted “yes” to Brexit. Donald Trump wants to build a wall on the US border with Mexico.Hungary is also mulling a wall to keep “outsiders” from crossing its borders.

The attitude of citizens in higher income countries towards immigrants ishardening. Visas are harder to come by, no matter the purpose of your travel. And, as research we conducted in late 2015 reveals, scientists from the developing world are among those caught in the cross hairs.

Barriers to travel

As part of the research we conducted an online survey to examine the impact of visa requirements on scientific collaboration. Some of the respondents were postgraduate students; others were active researchers and academics in fields like biology, earth sciences, applied mathematics and engineering. In total, 232 people representing 46 citizenships – from Canada, Chile, France, Malaysia, New Zealand and Kenya, to name a few – took part in the research.

We found that researchers from countries defined as developing by the International Monetary Fund perceive current visa rules as a major impediment to professional travel. Their peers from developed countries did not experience visa rules as a significant barrier.

Immigration legislation restricts movement by scientists from developing countries much more than those from advanced economies.

Immigration legislation restricts movement by scientists from developing countries much more than those from advanced economies. The Conversation

Notably, 34% of the developing countries’ scientists reported losing out on professional opportunities because of visa delays and denials. This was in spite of investing on average more than 10 hours on each visa application to ensure they had provided all the required information.

Disturbingly, a number of student respondents who originally came from developing countries said they were reluctant to attend international conferences. The stated reasons was because they were not guaranteed readmission to the developed countries in which they were studying. These students said they were at the mercy of immigration officers with each border entry.

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