The hidden cost of Trump’s visa freeze (Opinion)

Much has already been written about the vital importance of non-US doctors and nurses, but an equally critical but less-discussed risk group is scientists, who often form the basis of America’s innovation and scientific prowess.

Under the auspices of protecting American jobs from the impact of SARS-CoV2, Trump has already signed a previous executive order that somewhat reduced immigration in April and closed American embassies.
In May, a proclamation specifically issued to Chinese citizens was issued denying them F and J visas used to attend graduate and postgraduate programs in the United States. Trump’s new action suspends the issuance of new H-1B visas for professional workers; H-2B for temporary non-agricultural workers, J-1 for cultural exchanges and L-1 for transfers within the company.

Unexpectedly, it does not freeze, at least for now, the Optional Practical Training (OPT) program that allows college graduates to stay in the US. USA Up to three years after graduation or F visas largely used for graduate study.

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However, the restrictions in this latest proclamation will continue to have a detrimental effect on academic biomedical institutions, where a significant number of researchers work in US university laboratories. USA With the visas selected: J, H and L (the latest government data shows that in 2018, almost 135,000 scientific doctoral students, approximately 31% of the total, and more than 20,000 postdoctoral researchers, 53% of all researchers Graduate scientists were in the United States on temporary visas.)

Doctors and scientists are among the most revered professions in the world. If you stop photographing a doctor or scientist, what do you imagine beyond the scrubs or white coat? Increasingly in the US That person with the pocket protector originally came from Asia or Europe, and often from Africa or South America.

Where I currently work, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (MSK) in New York City, approximately 70% of the approximately 600 postdoctoral apprentices at any given time are visa-backed, with significant percentages of postdocs from China and India , and the rest largely from other Asian and European countries. I know the exact numbers from my own institution, but it would not be hyperbolic to predict that if this immigrant visa freeze lasts or expands beyond the end of the year, most biomedical academic centers could lose 30-80% of its scientific workforce and 25% of its clinical students.
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The impact would be less in the immediate term given that Trump’s proclamation allows existing visa holders to remain in the US. But still, at MSK, around 100 new scientific and medical trainees this year would not be allowed to start their research. The long-term impact is even more terrifying, as many talented researchers don’t even bother trying to navigate the bureaucracy and anxiety of American immigration. It is possible that we have already lost a place of primacy in the scientific world and even less will come in the future, choosing to practice in their countries of origin or where immigration policies are less hostile. Without immigrant scientists, American institutions would be less productive: there would be less and slower progress in cancer treatment, in vaccine development, in basic biology. Essentially, American labs need the innovation and ideas that these skilled immigrants bring.
The scientific stature of this country has been built on the discoveries of immigrants. The powerful anti-inflammatory drug Remicade (2018 US sales $ 5.3 billion) was developed by Dr. Jan Vilček, originally from Bratislava.
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The scientific leader, Joan Massagué, from my own cancer research institution, was a Spanish immigrant who was one of the first to understand the signaling behind processes such as embryonic development, the appearance of tumors and the metastasis of cancer.
The incoming head of Genentech’s research program, computational biologist Aviv Regev, came from Israel.
The work of neuroscientist Dr. Huda Zoghbi (Lebanon) has led to previously untreatable treatments for Rett Syndrome and Spinocerebellar Ataxia.
Feng Zhang, born in China and now a professor at MIT, was instrumental in the development of CRISPR technologies. Dr. Ankit Bharat, an immigrant from India, was the surgeon who performed the double lung transplant of a Covid-19 patient in his 20s. Examples of immigrant scientists abound and the impact they have had on the biomedical, natural and physical sciences, and it is remarkable that of all the United States-based Nobel Prize winners, more than 40% have been immigrants.

Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) pipelines have not been enough to spark the interest of American students. While our education system and colleges and universities need to improve on building the kind of talent we need, we have come to rely on the ingenuity of immigrants. Without their work, we risk the intellectual and economic decline of our academic scientific laboratories. Trump’s proclamation says he is trying to mitigate American unemployment, but restrictions on qualified scientists are not going to moderate the impact of Covid-19 on widespread unemployment, they will only wreak economic havoc on the technical and research sector.

While the current administration’s “America First” platform resonated across a wide swath of the country four years ago, in the intervening years, Trump has pressured America First to signify Immigrants Last. We will all suffer if he succeeds.