Support for the innovation engine of American science: immigrants

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As we grapple with how to correct racial injustice and promote equality in our society, we scientists cannot remain mute about another movement within the Trump administration which perpetrates and exacerbates discrimination. If a ban on immigrant visas is successfully implemented, our collective health, as well as the growth of scientific knowledge and innovation would be massively impacted. 

An executive order barring J, H, L, and OPT visas is not only potentially unconstitutional, but deeply un-American. We are a nation of immigrants and for centuries, scientists from around the world have been drawn to America to pursue freedom, opportunity, and scientific prowess. That promise has been fulfilled for tens of millions of immigrants and in turn, American science has flourished as a direct result. US-based universities and companies have been a magnet for the world’s best and brightest, acting as a global laboratory where people from every culture and background inspire each other and innovate together.

President Trump’s recent moves (1) and signaled intent to suspend immigration stands in opposition to the abundant evidence that immigrants are an essential asset to this country and for worldwide scientific innovation. Across all of science and engineering (as of 2018), 53% of postdoctoral scientists were temporary visa holders (2); 36% of all those graduating with science and engineering PhDs finished their studies in the US while on a visa (3). Barring further participation by these trainees would eliminate up to 80% of the scientific workforce in some institutions. The Migration Policy Institute indicates that 17% of US based healthcare workers, and 28% of physicians and surgeons in the United States are foreign-born (4). The 2018 National Foundation for American Policy Brief (5) indicated that immigrants have no adverse effect on native-born workers’ wages and employment, making the basis for such moves economically illegitimate, in addition to being contrary to the scientific progress our society depends on. 

Furthermore, at a time when the world is striving to mitigate the impact of the SARS-CoV2 pandemic, we need collective scientific momentum more than ever. A move to remove 30-80% of the country’s scientists from a central hub of innovation runs completely contrary to this goal. The race to develop new tests, therapies, and vaccines to address this existential pandemic, and future biomedical crises, depends on scientific collaboration and collective innovation. An executive action to bar immigrants would place all of that at risk.

2020 has brought forth harsh and unwelcome rhetoric and now policies against immigrants and a range of other groups, given their religion, race, and ethnicity. We strongly oppose these actions and urge the Trump administration to lift restrictions on entry or reentry for visa holders to the US. 

The following signers of this letter do so as individuals and not on behalf of their Institutions.