USA entry process world's worst


Oct 18, 2009
The cost to Americans of boorishness at their border

An entry process now rated as world's worst is keeping out tourists, students, immigrants.

Having removed his shoes, coat, gloves, hat, jacket, wallet and keys, your correspondent walked through the metal detector. It beeped. He had forgotten to remove his belt. The two security guards in attendance began to shout and make disparaging remarks about his ability to perform simple tasks.

This scene occurred outside the American Embassy in London last month, when he was renewing his visa. The rest of the process passed smoothly, but those boorish security guards were a poor advertisement for the greatest country on earth.

Americans are, by and large, a courteous bunch. Interactions with strangers are typically sweetened with a generous frosting of "Sir," "Ma'am" and "Excuse me."

Yet in a survey commissioned by the travel industry, more than half of visitors found American border officials rude and unpleasant. By a two-to-one margin, the country's entry process was rated the world's worst.

This is not a problem only for whining journalists and other foreign riffraff. It is also a problem for America.
The system is geared towards keeping out a tiny number of terrorists. Fair enough – such people should indeed be kept out. But there should be a trade-off.
An immigration official lives in fear of admitting the next Mohammed Atta, but there is no penalty for excluding the next Einstein, or for humiliating tourists who subsequently summer in France.

Osama bin Laden has arguably inflicted more harm on America indirectly than directly. To stop his acolytes from striking again, the government has made entering America far more difficult and degrading than it need be.
This has slowed the influx of foreign brains. In 2001, 28 per cent of students who studied abroad did so at American universities. By 2008 that figure had shrunk to 21 per cent, though since the absolute number of globally mobile students grew by 50 per cent over that period, the absolute number in America has flattened, not fallen.

Does this matter? Well, foreigners and immigrants make up more than half of the scientific researchers in the United States, notes Edward Alden, the author of a book called The Closing of the American Border.
Among postdoctoral students doing top-level research, 60 per cent are foreign-born. Boffins flock to America because its universities are the best, but the ordeal of getting a visa prompts many to take their ideas elsewhere.

A similar problem afflicts even short-term visitors. Organizers of international scientific conferences are increasingly reluctant to hold them in the United States because not everyone they invite will be able to attend.

Last year Alik Ismail-Zadeh, a prominent Russian geophysicist, applied for a visa to attend a meeting of the American Geophysical Union. He allowed three months, but did not get his passport back until after his plane had departed.

Kathie Bailey-Mathae of the National Academy of Sciences says that the hassles have eased in the past year, but only somewhat. When foreign scientists run into problems repeatedly, they become loath to collaborate with their American peers, she says.

Barack Obama came to office promising to reform the immigration system. So far, he has made only small changes, such as ending commando-style raids on factories suspected of hiring illegal workers; other matters have demanded his attention. But behind the scenes there are rumblings about immigration.

Chuck Schumer, a Democratic senator from New York, and Lindsey Graham, a Republican from South Carolina, are working on a comprehensive reform bill, which they may unveil soon. Angela Kelley of the Center for American Progress, a think tank closely aligned with the Obama administration, says she is optimistic that something will happen this year.

Last week her think tank published a study touting the benefits of reform. Its author, Raul Hinojosa-Ojeda of the University of California, Los Angeles, models what might happen if immigration laws are made more welcoming.
But it is unclear whether reformers will try to make the system more talent-friendly. In 2008, four times as many people earned green cards (i.e., permanent residency) because of family ties to America than because of their skills.

While other countries, such as Canada and Australia, seek to attract the best brains from around the world, America's immigration system is a recipe for stagnation. In the long term, it poses a serious threat to America's status as top nation, argues a report from the Council on Foreign Relations, a think tank. But in the short term, it could be fixed.

(Originally published by The Economist)
I agree the system could be improved, but realize the U.S. is also the #1 desired destination for immigrants. More people want to go to the U.S. than anywhere else, so the U.S. has a tough task in dealing with that.

No one in Argentina understands why I moved here, instead of my Argentine wife moving to the U.S. Everyone presumes they would move to the U.S. if they could. That sentiment puts a lot of pressure on the U.S. immigration system...
As a US person who has traveled a lot during my 67 years, and an admirer of The Economist to boot, I must say it must have been a slow news day when the Economist penned that article.

Suffice to say that in more than 45 years of international travel, I have found customs and immigration officials in every country who equal or excel the above-cited behavior in carrying out their generally onerous and difficult jobs. It's just part of international travel. At least the writer is honest in describing himself as a "whining journalist" -- journalists are the thinnest-skinned of all, in my experience.

There are a lot of ways to respond to such occurrences, just one of which is, "Jeez, did I actually wear a belt today? I usually forget."

And if anyone thinks the global scientific community is actually going to stop trying to get to the money trough of US educational and research institutions, I have a bridge in Brooklyn for sale you might be interested in.

It's fun to write yet again about a real, life tempest in a teapot.
I've heard Argentine relatives complain bitterly about the US consulate's unfair refusal to approve poor Cacho's tourist visa application.

In the next breath they will brag about how well Cacho's brother is doing, having jumped his tourist visa and stayed in the US as an illegal worker.

Ahh, the beauty of Argentine logic....!

Sara - Argentine/American mongrel
Some areas in the US rely on tourism and I personally know a good few people who have vowed never to go back and spend their Euros helping out the economy simply because of the harassment they encountered at the airport on the way in.

No one wants their privacy invaded and certainly people do not appreciate being labelled a terrorist as soon as they book their flights.

Yes it's important to weed out terrorists and all that but the stories i've heard sound like nothing but a bunch of power-tripping guards and laws that scream arrogance.
To show some metal parts of ur clothes and pull your shoes off by walking on clean and well maintained carpet is not a harassment. It's just that majority who's getting used to quick passes and expect that everything should be going just as ebay clicks.

Yeah, screw that shit, Captain. Let every moron walk to ur plane with any crap he likes to.
"Those Who Sacrifice Liberty For Security Deserve Neither"

- Benjamin Franklin
pikto99 said:
To show some metal parts of ur clothes and pull your shoes off by walking on clean and well maintained carpet is not a harassment. It's just that majority who's getting used to quick passes and expect that everything should be going just as ebay clicks.

Yeah, screw that shit, Captain. Let every moron walk to ur plane with any crap he likes to.

There wasn't any probem with basic procedures that we all go through at any airport in the world these days.
The harassment was usually tales of being shouted at and degraded by male members of security. Or being held up for hours and questioned simply because they didn’t like the look of the person. Or a tall Irish man with a moustache being accused of being an ‘Arab’. :confused:

Not to mention being asked extremely personal questions and other ridiculous measures that are harassment
Bascially being treated like a criminal simply because you want to see ‘the land of the free’