While there has been some progress in straightening out the mess that is the visa process post-9/11, as this Washington Post story indicates, the situation is still pretty bad for those who have research interests in high-tech areas.
A decision two weeks ago by a U.S. consulate in India to refuse a visa to a prominent Indian scientist has triggered heated protests in that country and set off a major diplomatic flap on the eve of President Bush’s first visit to India.
The incident has also caused embarrassment at the highest reaches of the American scientific establishment, which has worked to get the State Department to issue a visa to Goverdhan Mehta, who said the U.S. consulate in the south Indian city of Chennai told him that his expertise in chemistry was deemed a threat.
The consulate told Mehta “you have been denied a visa” and invited him to submit additional information, according to an official at the National Academy of Sciences who saw a copy of the document. Mehta said in a written account obtained by The Washington Post that he was humiliated, accused of “hiding things” and being dishonest, and told that his work is dangerous because of its potential applications in chemical warfare.
Mehta denied that his work has anything to do with weapons. He said that he would provide his passport if a visa were issued, but that he would do nothing further to obtain the document: “If they don’t want to give me a visa, so be it.”
The scientist told Indian newspapers that his dealing with the U.S. consulate was “the most degrading experience of my life.” Mehta is president of the International Council for Science, a Paris-based organization comprising the national scientific academies of a number of countries. The council advocates that scientists should have free access to one another.
As Bill Wulf of the National Academy of Engineering points out later in the article, these consular officials overseas are under tremendous pressure to not make mistakes in deciding who to allow in the country. Still, if the process leads to the summary denial of entry for someone like Mehta, the process clearly needs some work.
“Making the wrong decision would be career-ending, so they play it safe, not really understanding the macroscopic implications of their decision,” Wulf said. “Denying a visa to the president of ICSU is probably as dumb as you can get. This is not the way we can make friends.”
You can read the whole thing here.