After the September 11 attacks, the clampdown on those from overseas wishing to study in the U.S. was inevitable. The Patriot Act of 2001 quickly implemented an electronic system for tracking foreign students, and officials are now extensively reviewing visa applications of scientists, engineers and students in technical fields. These and other ongoing efforts are creating a "viscous" visa system, notes William F. Brinkman, president of the American Physical Society (APS). Although such a system makes it harder for would-be terrorists to slip through, Brinkman maintains that it could hobble the U.S. economy and actually compromise national security.
The most visible effect of the visa restrictions may be on the highly international endeavors of physics. At Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Batavia, Ill., scientists from Vietnam, China, India and Russia, who all had supplied equipment for one of the detectors, were unable to arrive and operate it. A dozen scientists missed a September 2002 conference at Brookhaven National Laboratory. Vladimir B. Braginsky, a Russian who heads a research group at the California Institute of Technology, could not return in time for a meeting; Rashid A. Sunyaev, another Russian and director of the Max Planck Institute for Astrophysics in Garching, Germany, had to abandon his fall visit to Caltech. Many institutions are advising their foreign scientists to avoid leaving the U.S. (Similar delays are plaguing the biomedical field.)
This article was originally published with the title Boxed Out.