Give Foreign Scholars a Printout of Regulations to Show Customs Agents

To the Editor:

Your article about a French professor who was detained at the airport for almost 10 hours, and then almost deported, because of a misunderstanding about how an honorarium he was to receive for participating in a symposium at Texas A&M affected his visa status (it didn’t),  is distressing for at least two reasons (“French Scholar on Way to Speak at Texas A&M Was Detained at Airport for 10 Hours,The Chronicle, February 26).

First, it could happen to any American university which invites foreign scholars to participate in events. Second, as the article suggested, it was likely “a reflection of a new ‘rigidity and rigor in enforcing these immigration requirements and the technicalities of every visa’” — and thus likely to happen many times in the future.

I write to suggest a simple solution which proved its effectiveness in thousands of similar situations. Back when smoking was permitted on airplanes, but nonsmokers were almost always guaranteed by law a seat in the no-smoking section, they were frequently denied this right because the rule was complex and often misunderstood.

So the antismoking organization which I headed distributed hundreds of thousands of wallet-sized cards with the complete text (and citation) of the rule, a simple explanation, and instructions to show the card to prevent any confusion. It worked like a charm!

Similarly, foreign scholars receiving only honorariums could be provided a letter containing the text and citations to the statute(s) and/or regulation(s) which state that scholars who receive only an honorarium do not require a work visa, and links to government websites which a border agent could access for more information.

Indeed, given the increased aggressiveness of border agents, and the uncertainties likely to be caused by continuing changes in law, policy, and practice, it might be useful if universities could provide, on their websites, letters for visiting lecturers (no compensation), visiting professors (receiving compensation), returning and new students, etc. which would explain — and provide actual text and citations — applicable statutes, regulations, etc.

This would make it unnecessary for each foreigner to have to negotiate our governmental websites on their own to print out the applicable rules and regulations, and make it easy for the text to be updated quickly and easily as necessary.

John F. Banzhaf III
Professor of Public Interest Law
George Washington University Law School

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