Photonics, immigration, and visa bans

Feb. 9, 2017
One of the biggest concerns for many companies and individuals is that this travel ban may be a first step in limiting foreign-born students and workers in the U.S.
Conard 720

The contrast was striking between the open, vibrant, and international SPIE Photonics West—with its networking and exchange of technical and product information—and the political and economic constrictions being unveiled in the wider world, specifically the uncertainty associated with trade and immigration. To those of us in the global photonics community the uncertainty is alarming and, in the case of immigration, threatening, as colleagues from some nations were barred from attending the San Francisco conference by a travel ban that, at the time of this writing, is being challenged in the U.S. courts.

In rare political statements, OSA joined with over 180 scientific, engineering, and academic organizations in urging the President to rescind the executive order on immigration and visas, declaring it damaging to scientific progress, innovation, and U.S. science and engineering capacity. SPIE wrote a letter to the President expressing concerns regarding the executive order and offering to assist in working with the administration to develop policies that provide the necessary security checks at U.S. borders without inhibiting international scientific collaboration.

One of the biggest concerns for many companies and individuals is that this travel ban may be a first step in limiting foreign-born students and workers in the U.S. Whether or not this is a reasonable fear, it's an example of the effect of this sudden policy change. Personal political views vary widely within the photonics community, understandably. But I think most of us can agree with the sentiments expressed in the OSA and SPIE letters, that, whatever the intent of the executive order, a fair and well-planned implementation of immigration policy is essential to both national security and international cooperation.

Please let me know what you think on this issue, or contact your members of Congress, OSA, or SPIE. You can also volunteer to join the National Photonics Initiative (NPI) for its annual Congressional Visits Day in Washington, DC, on April 25-26, 2017. More information may be found on the NPI website:

About the Author

Conard Holton | Editor at Large

Conard Holton has 25 years of science and technology editing and writing experience. He was formerly a staff member and consultant for government agencies such as the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority and the International Atomic Energy Agency, and engineering companies such as Bechtel. He joined Laser Focus World in 1997 as senior editor, becoming editor in chief of WDM Solutions, which he founded in 1999. In 2003 he joined Vision Systems Design as editor in chief, while continuing as contributing editor at Laser Focus World. Conard became editor in chief of Laser Focus World in August 2011, a role in which he served through August 2018. He then served as Editor at Large for Laser Focus World and Co-Chair of the Lasers & Photonics Marketplace Seminar from August 2018 through January 2022. He received his B.A. from the University of Pennsylvania, with additional studies at the Colorado School of Mines and Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University.

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