Visas for Visiting Scientists and Students - Extension of Visas Mantis Program

by Alexander Unkart

Each year, thousands of international science students and scholars apply for visas to enter the United States to participate in education and exchange programs. These foreign science students and scholars are an important economic resource for U.S. universities, colleges, and also research centers.
At the same time, the U.S. has important national security reasons for carefully screening science students and scholars who apply for visas. Since 1998 the U.S. government uses the Visas Mantis program, a security review procedure involving multiple U.S. government agencies as the primary tool to conduct this screening.

{access view=guest}Access to the full article is free, but requires you to register. Registration is simple and quick - all we need is your name and a valid e-mail address. We appreciate your interest in bridges.{/access} {access view=!guest} The Visas Mantis process, which aims to identify those visa applicants who may pose a threat to national security by illegally transferring sensitive technology, is designed to further four important objectives:

- prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their missile delivery systems;

- restrain the development of destabilizing conventional military capabilities in certain regions of the world;

- prevent the transfer of arms and sensitive dual-use items to terrorists and states that sponsor terrorism; and

- maintain U.S. advantages in certain militarily critical technologies.

After September 11, the time period for the issuance of Visas Mantis went up to an average of 67 days in spring 2003, according to the United States Government Accountability Office (GAO), the investigative arm of Congress charged with examining matters relating to the receipt and payment of public funds. Thus a lot of foreign students did not receive their visas in time and could not start their study in the U.S.. The visas often were valid only for a single entry, forcing foreign students and scholars to go through this lengthy procedure every time they left the country. The number of foreign students decreased, alerting American universities and colleges which often rely on foreign students and scholars.

At present, the State Department has been able to reduce the average time to obtain a clearance to an average of less than 14 days. This was achieved by streamlining the process within the involved agencies. The last remaining problem - the duration of the visas - was solved this year. The changes, which were announced on February 11, 2005 by the State Department and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), stated that certain Visas Mantis clearances will have longer validity periods.

To underscore the importance the Bush administration attaches to a streamlined Visas Mantis program, the State Department's top spokesman raised the matter as his first point of business during a recent daily press briefing explaining the new changes in the Visas Mantis program. "I know it sounds very obscure, but what it basically means is that scientists and scholars who come to study in the United States - students, exchange visitors, temporary workers, certain tourist and business categories of visas - that these people with scientific expertise can have more freedom of travel and come to the States, they can leave, they can come back, without too complicated visa procedures," Richard Boucher told reporters.

The latest changes to the program involve extending the validity of Visas Mantis clearances for the F (student), J (exchange visitors), H (temporary workers), L (intra-company transferees) and B (tourist and business) categories of visas. "This means that if the original visa has expired and a new visa application is filed to return to the previous study or work program in the United States, another Visas Mantis clearance may not be required," the State Department said in announcing the changes, adding that consular officers have discretionary authority to request a clearance during any visa adjudication.

Here is a closer look at some of the specific details regarding the various visas:

International students (F visas) who have received a Visas Mantis clearance and been issued a visa will now have that clearance valid for up to the length of the approved academic program, with a maximum of four years. A change in academic programs will invalidate the clearance and a new Visas Mantis review would be required if a new visa is requested.

Temporary workers (H visas), exchange visitors (J visas), and intra-company transferees (L visas) can receive clearance for their approved activity for a maximum of two years. If the nature of the visa holder's activity changes, the clearance becomes invalid and a new review would be needed to obtain another visa.

Business visitors (B-1 visas) and visitors for pleasure (B-2 visas) are eligible to receive Visas Mantis clearance valid for one year, provided that the declared original purpose for travel has not changed on subsequent visits to the United States.


Department of State

Department of Homeland Security{/access}