Early career researchers, including postdoctoral researchers, are the backbone of the U.S. scientific research enterprise. Currently, international scholars make up over 50% of U.S.-based postdoctoral researchers. While international scholars largely have access to the same scientific training as U.S. citizens, the challenges faced by this group are unique and differ significantly from other groups in academia. On the occasion of the National Postdoc Appreciation Week, we at Future of Research are expressing our concern about the current 18-month travel ban enacted by President Trump and so far upheld for many foreign nationals by President Biden.
Beginning in February 2020, it has become increasingly difficult for the international scholar community to continue performing research in the United States. In response to the spread of COVID-19, then President Trump released a Proclamation banning travel of non-U.S. citizens from China. Since then, President Trump has instituted further travel bans on Iran, Europe, the UK, and Brazil. The order suspended entry for individuals under the H-1B, H-2B, J-1, and L-1 visa programs. What followed was a climate of confusion, uncertainty and chaos amongst the international scholars community. Many of us heard or read the personal stories of our colleagues being stranded in their home countries, awaiting visa renewal for re-entry into the U.S. While those who stayed faced isolation from friends and family back home. The results were astronomical disruptions to career paths and scientific progress In some cases, our colleagues and friends’ job offers were rescinded. President Biden has continued those bans and expanded them to include South Africa and India as well. Particularly damning is the de facto separation of foreign-born ECRs from their families for a period of 18 months. This threatened the diverse and collaborative nature of the scientific enterprise, chiefly our ability to foster a flexible and creative work environment conducive to scientific innovation with top researchers from around the world. While preventing the spread of COVID-19 should be a central goal of the Biden administration, research has shown that travel bans are not the most effective method for preventing further spread; they are most effective only in the early stages of the pandemic.
On September 20, 2021, it was reported that President Biden plans to lift these bans to fully-vaccinated travelers in November, however these bans have created, and will continue to create, significant disruptions to the international scholar community. We call on President Biden to publish clear plans on how the ban will be ended in November and how the administration pledges to continue supporting foreign-born ECRs.
There is no doubt that the U.S academic enterprise is welcoming to scholars from all over the world in offering a chance to excel and participate at the forefront of scientific discovery. However, much more support is needed from the U.S. government, funding agencies, institutions, departments and principal investigators to create a welcoming and safe environment for international scholars that allows them to thrive within the U.S. academic enterprise. This must begin with the rescission of the harmful and ineffective travel bans.