Part of the tragic fallout of the 9/11 attacks was a heightened US suspicion toward foreign students and high-tech experts working in sensitive technical areas, such as nuclear or biomedical fields. Some of the 19 hijackers had obtained US student visas.
A tougher screening of visa applicants has caused delays in the arrivals of students and workers, and discouraged many from even applying. Universities and companies began to complain loudly last year that the US was losing its leadership in research and its economic competitiveness through a decline in the number of these foreign students and workers. As the most popular destination for the world's brightest, the US stood to lose out to other countries as those people went elsewhere in frustration.
Finally, the State Department acted last week to loosen its security screening. It will, for instance, permit foreign students to maintain security clearances for the length of an academic program up to four years, instead of undergoing yearly checks. For temporary workers and company transferees, the period of security clearance can be up to two years.
Making the visa application faster, easier, and more transparent has become an urgent goal of the State Department. Adding more than 300 visa counselors has helped, and should work to renew the upward trend in attracting talented foreign students and workers to the US.