Business lobbies to reform visa laws

February 9, 2007

University administrators have been joined by a coalition, including business organisations and conservative groups, in a renewed call to reform US visa requirements to make it easier for students and scholars to enter the country, writes Jon Marcus.

The recommendations, including a call to waive the requirement that applicants have personal interviews at US embassies or consulates at the discretion of local officials, come from organisations normally supportive of George W. Bush's Government.

But despite the Administration's insistence that the bureaucratic visa process is improving, delays and red tape are jeopardising the economy, complained the head of the National Foreign Trade Council, a staunchly pro-business lobby. Bill Reinsch, its president, said: "For 250 years America has welcomed people from all over the world. Our visa policy jeopardises all that."

He added that because of post-9/11 restrictions "we are encouraging businesses to move their innovation capabilities outside the US so their foreign engineers do not have to run the visa gauntlet. We need to change our policy before more damage is done".

University officials have long complained about visa policies. But now the Association of International Educators and the Alliance for International Education and Cultural Exchange have been joined by business lobbies and the conservative Heritage Foundation.

Marlene Johnson, chief executive of Nafsa: Association of International Educators, said that "the diverse voices of this coalition urge the Government to take a number of key steps" to change the visa process.

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