June 25, 2004
Congressman Mike Capuano introduced, H.R. 4373, the Furthering Education and Research through Mantis Improvement (FERMI) Act. This legislation seeks to preserve US preeminence in science by insuring that talented scientists and scholars from abroad may continue to work and study in America. Delays in visa processing since 9/11 have significantly impacted reputable researchers and, in some cases, prevented them from working or studying in the United States at all. The bill is named for Enrico Fermi, who won the Nobel Prize in physics in 1938, the year he left Italy. His work, with that of Albert Einstein and other refugee scientists, helped assure Allied victory in the Second World War.
"In the aftermath of 9/11, the United States has taken essential steps to control its borders and we must remain vigilant. Security checks are rightly required if a foreign scientistŐs work might relate to weapons of mass destruction, bioterrorism or industrial espionage. However, since September 11th, virtually all scientists have been subjected to lengthy background checks, resulting in significant delays. Of greater concern to me, however, is that such indiscriminate screening will divert attention and resources from visa applicants who might actually pose a security threat," stated Congressman Capuano.
Currently, all scientists and scholars whose specialties appear on the Technology Alert List (TAL), a list that includes categories as broad as "biochemistry", must undergo a security check, called a Visas Mantis clearance, before a visa can be issued. In the year 2000, officials conducted 1,000 of these security checks. Last year, that number had increased to over 20,000.
Delays affect American business as well as science and medicine. According to a recent survey of more than 700 companies by a leading international business association, U.S. companies have lost more than $30 billion in revenue due to persistent difficulties and delays in the visa process. Congressman Don Manzullo (R-IL), chair of the House Small Business Committee, is the lead cosponsor of the legislation.
Specifically, the legislation:
"We hear every day," Congressman Capuano stated, "about a reputable scholar who has been prevented from coming to the United States or from returning to important work here. Despite claims from the Department of Homeland Security that they are fixing the process, businesses and universities continue to say that the problems are only getting worse."
Recently, a scientist conducting diabetes research at a major teaching hospital in Boston went home for Christmas and could not return for almost three months. Significant research projects funded by the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation have also been disrupted because of visa delays. 90% of United States graduate schools reported a decline in applications from abroad last year. Foreign-born scientists have made immense contributions. One third of the Nobel prizes won by Americans were awarded to citizens naturalized either before or after they received the award.
The legislation, which has bipartisan support, was referred to the Committee on the Judiciary. It has been endorsed by the US Chamber of Commerce, the US-China Business Council, the American Council on International Personnel, the National Foreign Trade Council, the National Association of International Educators and the International Society for Optical Engineering.
Contact: Alison M. Mills (617) 621-6208