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Misguided Restrictions on Visas

A bill currently in the U.S. Senate stipulates that “No nonimmigrant visa shall be issued to any alien from a country that is a state sponsor of international terrorism unless it has been determined that such alien does not pose a threat to the safety or national security of the United States according to standards developed by the Secretary of State, in consulation with the Attorney General...” The Tech recommends that this section of the bill be amended to include more specific standards for allowing nonimmigrants to obtain visas.

In the absence of any guidelines by which to judge visa applicants, this bill gives the Secretary of State and the Attorney General an excessive amount of discretionary power. They can set whatever standards they deem fit, and when a new administration comes to power, it can change the standards arbitrarily. Ideally, this would merely result in more complete background checks. In practice, giving so much authority to the Departments of State and Justice might result in an effective ban on nonimmigrant visas, including student visas.

Many individuals who have made valuable contributions to science in the United States came from countries with which the United States had recently been at war. Turning away German physicists after World War II would have been a mistake, and many great mathematicians hail from the former Soviet Union. It is important to recognize that the international policy of a scientist’s home country does not make him any worse a scientist nor any less valuable to our country’s scientific community. By keeping such scholars out of the country, we may be doing our nation a great disservice.

More importantly, many members of MIT’s own community come from nations that would be targeted by this bill. If it plays out as a de facto ban, the bill would serve to weaken MIT’s valuable international community, both by preventing newcomers and making it difficult for current students to renew their student visas. President Vest should support his own students and community by speaking out against this potentially dangerous bill as it currently stands.

This bill leaves far too much in the hands of two individuals. The Senate should amend the bill to include specific standards for establishing that a visa applicant is not a safety or national security risk.

Additionally, the bill should apply to all aliens equally, not just to nationals of a select few countries. A national security threat can come from anywhere; for example, Richard Reid, the December “shoe bomber,” was born in London.

While the bill is still in committee, it’s not too late to make such amendments. The Tech urges President Vest and other members of the MIT community to encourage legislators to take a more prudent approach to this bill. The interests of national security need not blindly turn away gifted minds.