{ C O N T E N T S }
Volume 11, Issue 1

President’s Letter

SCS4 Highlights

ISCB Honors
David Haussler
& Aviv Regev

The ISMB Organization
& Future Vision

PLoS Computational Biology Overview

11th Israeli Bioinformatics
Symposium Report

Taking a Stand on Software Sharing

ISCB Members Speak Out on US Entry Visa Issues

ISCB’s New Software
Sharing Statement


ISCB Student Council

Post Your Events with ISCB

MentorNet Report Card: Year Two

Calling all Leaders!

Become an ISMB Reporter

In Memory of
Kamalakar-Rao Mettani

FASEB Update

Rocky ‘08

Key Dates for Key Conferences

Conferences & Events

Cover Image




Copyright © 2008
International Society for
Computational Biology.
All rights reserved.


ISCB Tackles US Entry Visa Issues

In January 2008, Barbara Bryant, as chair of the ISCB Public Affairs & Policies committee (a term that has since expired), worked quickly and effectively with Carrie Wolinetz of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB) Office of Public Affairs (OPA) to produce data for a US House of Representatives Committee on Science & Technology, Subcommittee on Research and Science Education, hearing on “Visas for Foreign Scholars and Students” to look at the bearing federal government’s policies have on scientific exhange and “science diplomacy”. Bryant conducted the following survey of ISCB members on problems encountered to obtaining US entry visas:

Questions asked:
1) Are you experiencing delays getting visas or outright rejections of your applications?

2) Are you seeing this problem from particular countries of citizenship?

3) Specifically, what problems are you experiencing (i.e., difficulty getting consular appointments; delays in application processing; denial of visas; problems with US-VISIT system)?

4) For each problem, is it due to not following or understanding the existing visa application guidelines and restrictions (such as not applying far enough ahead of time, failing to schedule a consular interview, providing incomplete applications, countryspecific single entry or is the problem a failure of the U.S. immigration system to follow its own policies?

5) What change, if any, do you feel we ought to advocate?

Rapid response:
The answers fired in rapidly, one after the other. Within about one ten days we had some 50 detailed stories of frustration, disappointment and in some cases disrespectful handling of applicants by consular officials. Responses came in from at least 20 countries -- from Austria to China, from Denmark to Singapore, from Canada to Cameroon. Although the survey questions were written to elicit the responses of foreign researchers entering the US, several responses came in from US citizens recounting government delay or denial of entry by researchers in their labs or speakers at their conferences. The compilation of responses point to some sad truths: Foreign researchers in the US cannot take a chance on leaving the country to attend meetings or visit family for fear of being denied or delayed reentry. Other countless researchers simply avoid coming to the US as much as possible due to the inordinate hassle of securing a visa. Some respondents even requested anonymity, expressing fear of repercussions for speaking out.

Almost all of the survey participants thanked ISCB for tackling this issue, stating that much has been written about the problem but until now no specific organization seemed to be stepping forward to collect the growing body of data on just how much of a problem this is, and providing it to legislators who can do something about it.

What next?
We can’t say ISCB’s members’ stories have made a specific change in policy yet, but if more societies take this on as ISCB has and start reporting it directly to the lawmakers who can make changes, there just might be improvements on the horizon. Meanwhile, ISCB is doing a better job of assisting our own conference attendees in securing visas when they encounter problems by contacting their local consulates, and has been answering questions from our members and colleagues as they conduct their own conferences and have to weave their way through the process of educating their speakers and attendees on the visa application process.

Personal stories of difficulties encountered are still welcome at policy@iscb.org, as well as any success stories that might indicate the tide is turning in favor, once again, of global scientific exchange. We urge you to directly report any visa issues by completing the questionnaire of the National Academies International Visitors Office at www7.nationalacademies.org/visas/Visa_Questionnaire.html

To read the full summary of survey comments and recommendations please click here (pdf). A timely editorial has also been published in PLoS Computational Biology, ISCB’s official journal at www.ploscompbiol.org/doi/pcbi.1000097

Full information on the February 7, 2008 Visas for Foreign Scholars and Students hearing of the US House of Representatives can be found at http://science.house.gov/publications/hearings_markups_details.aspx?NewsID=2064. This includes reports, opening and witness statements, and a press release by Washington Congressman Brian Baird, who chaired the hearing.