Tuesday, March 3, 2009

America Takes Aim, Shoots Self in Foot

NEW YORK, New York -- The New York Times published another painful, "what the f&$# is wrong with us" story tonight about the US's bone-headed immigration policies driving away foreign students.

I've seen this happen to many friends, co-workers and fellow students. They want to remain in the US to study or work and contribute to making this country a better place, but our immigration laws push them out or make it pointlessly difficult to stay. Europe is more than happy to have them. As the Economist has brilliantly written, guess who shoots themselves in the foot? Yep: We do!

Particularly galling is this assertion by an immigration official:

The official said that time limits for visas were ordinarily a matter of reciprocal agreements between nations. [Belarussian scientist] Dr. Shkumatava’s case, he said, may have been further complicated because Belarus severely limits the number of foreign service officers the United States can have there at any given time.

That's a line of bullskit. Russians have to present US consular officials with their life stories in order to visit the US for a week. As a Russian, you need to include copies of birth certificates, property deeds, pay stubs, letters from your employer saying you have a stable job, and any records of family, spouses, etc. to prove you have someone "anchoring" you in Russia. Then you need to pay hundreds of dollars for a US contractor called Pony Express to deliver your materials to the US embassy (you can't deliver them yourself, of course!).

Then you wait for a phone call to arrange an interview. It could come at any time over the course of weeks after you pony up for Pony Express, or it might not come at all. Your interviewer generally treats you like dirt -- especially if you're a woman. Then you wait weeks again for a phone call saying you can get your visa, that you have another interview ... or you may not get a phone call at all.

Americans, on the other hand, pay the Russian Embassy $100 and get their visa that day. There is NO reciprocity; there is fear, mindgames and arbitrariness for highly educated, highly skilled Russians trying to come here. Why? Because we're afraid those educated, skilled people may try to stay in the US. What a disaster that would be.

Dr. Shkumatava, of MIT (credit: NYT)

Even English and Canadian friends have nearly insurmountable difficulties renewing work visas. One friend -- a Canadian who graduated from Cambridge -- was sent to an ICE detention facility after flying into Houston with a work visa that had only a month before it expired (she'd been denied a renewal because her major, English, didn't "qualify" her to be a charity worker teaching kids in the Bronx to read). She spent a night in a cold cell in Texas with no phone call allowed, and no clothes or blanket aside from the shorts and tank-top she was wearing. All because she majored in English.

Americans, do we want to run ourselves into the ground? For the love of God, call your elected representatives today and demand that they stop bowing to the bogeyman of "terror" and bring about rational immigration policies. If we don't want foreign students studying here, they'll find other places to go. And, sadly, our high schools today are in such a state that US students alone aren't going to allow our universities their reputation for being tops in the world.

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