One of the things I get to do now as a member of the scienceblogs gang is answer these weekly “Ask a science blogger” questions. This weeks is actually really quite appropriate for me given stuff going on this week at home.
The question: “Do you think there is a brain drain going on (i.e. foreign scientists not coming to work and study in the U.S. like they used to, because of new immigration rules and the general unpopularity of the U.S.) If so, what are its implications? Is there anything we can do about it?”
My answer? For me, I’d have to say that there is absolutely no question that there is a dramatic change. The main cause isn’t dislike of the US or of Americans; it’s caused by the way that the current immigration and visa related policies of our government have a completely unpredictable and harshly negative impact on people who would otherwise be very favorably inclined towards us.
For a few examples that I’ve seen just in the last month or two:
- My wife is a program chair of a conference in NYC this week, and she’s had two authors cancel their presentations because they couldn’t get visas.
- I know of at least a half-dozen students who were supposed to start at US grad schools last fall, but couldn’t, because of visa problems.
- A coworker went home to have her visa renewed, and is unable to return to her job in the US because, as someone with an arab-sounding last name, they flagged her as a risk, and it’ll take at least six months for her to get a new visa. (Seriously, we’re refusing to allow people who went to school in the US, and have permanent jobs in the US to re-enter the country!)
- Another coworker went home to visit family, and got harassed by the immigration official at the airport.
That’s just the tip of the iceberg.
Every time something like that happens, in addition to the damage that we do to the specific people affected, we also influence others to not waste their time in even trying to come here.
As for whether this will have an effect on the US? Again, absolutely. I know the faculty at my alma mater; and I know faculty at many other schools. In CS, at least half the faculty is foreign born. Same for math. People like them aren’t going to keep coming to the US when they’re going to be at risk for harassment, for losing jobs and homes over arbitrary nonsense from petty officials.
It’s already visible if you’re looking for it. People that I know, who five years ago would have been taking jobs in the US are taking jobs in Canada, in Germany, in England. Because they don’t want to face the risks of coming here.
What to do about it? It’s also an easy answer. We need to get our government, and the people working for it to stop acting like assholes. We need to make some effort to recognize the fact that the vast, overwhelming majority of people are not terrorists, and to incorporate that fact into our policies. We need to stop stalling people for no reason; and remove the element of capriciousness from the whole process of entering the country.
A person who has a paper in a technical conference in the US, visiting on a short term visa, is not a huge security risk. Top students coming from foreign schools to get educated in americac are not huge security risks. Not every person with an arab-sounding last name is a terrorist. A person with a job in america who hasn’t done anything wrong, who would never be considered for being charged with an expulsion-level crime, should not be punished for going home to visit. None of these things make sense. None of these things improved our security. All they accomplish is to harrass, intimidate, and frighten innocent people, and drive them away from doing things that would be significant positive contributions to american society and the american economy. Quite simply, we need to stop doing that. We are making a deliberate policy of making lives miserable for foreigners who want to contribute to our society. That needs to stop.