Biden Wants to Waive Visa Requirements for Russian Scientists

A splendid idea but why stop there?

Bloomberg, “Biden Seeks to Rob Putin of His Top Scientists With Visa Lure

The Biden administration has a plan to rob Vladimir Putin of some of his best innovators by waiving some visa requirements for highly educated Russians who want to come to the U.S., according to people familiar with the strategy.

One proposal, which the White House included in its latest supplemental request to Congress, is to drop the rule that Russian professionals applying for an employment-based visa must have a current employer.

It would apply to Russian citizens who have earned master’s or doctoral degrees in science, technology, engineering or mathematics in the U.S. or abroad, the proposal states.

A spokesman for the National Security Council confirmed that the effort is meant to weaken Putin’s high-tech resources in the near term and undercut Russia’s innovation base over the long run — as well as benefit the U.S. economy and national security.

Specifically, the Biden administration wants to make it easier for top-tier Russians with experience with semiconductors, space technology, cybersecurity, advanced manufacturing, advanced computing, nuclear engineering, artificial intelligence, missile propulsion technologies and other specialized scientific areas to move to the U.S.

Biden administration officials have said they’ve seen significant numbers of high-skilled technology workers flee Russia because of limited financial opportunities from the sanctions the U.S. and allies have imposed after Putin’s invasion on Ukraine.

The provision would expire in four years. There would be no changes to the vetting process, fees or other rules in the Immigration and Nationality Act.

Russian professionals began leaving the country after the invasion began on Feb. 24. Konstantin Sonin a economist at the University of Chicago tweeted on March 7 “that more than 200,000 people fled Russia during the last 10 days. The tragic exodus not seen for a century.” An Interfax report, citing an estimate from the Russian Association for Electronic Communications, said that between 70,000 and 100,000 information technology specialists might try to emigrate in April.

The U.S. and some of its Group of Seven allies have also in recent weeks discussed giving protected status to Russian scientists, including those working at CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research. CERN, which runs the largest particle physics laboratory, suspended most of its work with Russia after the war began.

This seems like a no-brainer. The only real questions are 1) Why not make this permanent, rather than having it expire in four years? and 2) Why just Russians?

Obviously, there are good strategic and humanitarian reasons to do this in response to this specific situation. But it’s simply good policy to make it possible for the most talented people from around the world to come to the United States and contribute.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Sleeping Dog says:

    2) Why just Russians?

    Hmmm, they’re white and Christian? After all, TFG kept wondering why there were so few Norwegian immigrants.

    I suspect getting it through Congress would be impossible if it were a general change. Plus there is a risk of pissing off our allies, if it were extended too broadly.

  2. MarkedMan says:

    2) Why just Russians?

    Well, if we made it worldwide we would have tens of millions of Chinese and Indian emigres alone.

  3. James Joyner says:

    @Sleeping Dog:

    I suspect getting it through Congress would be impossible if it were a general change. Plus there is a risk of pissing off our allies, if it were extended too broadly.

    Yes, fair enough. But there’s already pretty high fluidity with Northern Europe, Canada, Australia, and the like.


    Well, if we made it worldwide we would have tens of millions of Chinese and Indian emigres alone.

    Living in Northern Virginia, which has a huge East and South Asian population, I’m not seeing a problem with that. Bring ’em on.

  4. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @James Joyner: Living in the hills and hollers, I can tell you my neighbors would have a problem with it.

  5. James Joyner says:

    @OzarkHillbilly: Fair enough—but the scientists aren’t likely to settle there, since that’s not where the jobs are!

  6. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @James Joyner: You would think that would help, but there aren’t a whole lot of obviously gay people around here either, but that never stops them from complaining about the gay.

  7. Michael Reynolds says:

    This is a brilliant move. It can only be applied to Russians and perhaps Belorussians because it is an obviously hostile move. We cannot be trying to lure scientists away from Germany.

    But it could become a regular tool in our arsenal any time we’re in a conflict. Go to war with the Americans and they destroy your economy and steal your scientists. It’s sort of the modern version of salting the Carthaginian fields, it says not only will we fuck you up, we will make it very damn hard for you to get up off the ground afterward. I like it a lot.

  8. Kathy says:

    It would be an even better gambit if the Russians were going through a bout of Lysenkoism.

    Come to think of it, that may be more likely to happen in red America.

  9. Michael Cain says:

    Why is it always STEM? Why don’t we ever propose inviting hundreds/thousands of people with a Masters or PhD in history or political science to come to the US and disrupt the market for those academic disciplines?

  10. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Michael Cain:
    The object of the game is to hurt Russia while advantaging ourselves. I am decidedly non-STEM but even I can’t see the advantage of acquiring Russian poets.

  11. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Michael Cain: Because there’sjust no money to be made driving down wages in the liberal arts?

  12. Sleeping Dog says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    True about poets, but the principal dancers of the Mariinsky and Bolshoi would be a worth while haul. And perhaps a choreographer or three.

  13. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Sleeping Dog:
    It could put a strain on our tutu and ballet slipper supply line.

  14. Michael Cain says:

    The object of the game is to hurt Russia while advantaging ourselves.

    I understand the hurting Russia part. But we currently don’t have enough jobs that take advantage of the current STEM students coming out of college with graduate degrees. There are no empty labs clamoring for more post-docs. There are no universities with tenure-track positions lacking qualified applicants. I fail to see how enabling Russians to compete with Americans for limited positions is an “advantage.”

  15. Gustopher says:

    I’d like to see soldiers added to the list. Specifically any that surrender to the Ukrainians.

    Ukraine doesn’t really have the resources for a lot of prisoners of war, and if Russian kids say “I don’t really want to kill a bunch of Ukrainians” that seems like a good qualification to me.

  16. Gustopher says:

    @Michael Cain: I expect it varies field by field, but we could absorb every software engineer they have.

  17. Michael Cain says:

    @Gustopher: Not being snarky, but serious, when I ask why you think American graduate school programs are not producing enough software engineers? I mention graduate school because Biden’s proposed visa expansion applies only to people who hold a Masters or Ph.D.

  18. Gustopher says:

    @Michael Cain: three to four recruiter contacts a day tell me that the market for engineers is very hot. I don’t know that we need folks with a PhD, but we need people who can do the work.

    (PhD is specifically useful in the machine learning and computer vision fields, which are also hot right now, and where they are often building new things — I’m more of an application engineer, so that degree would have been wasted on me)

    Wages for engineers are way up. Adding competition would lower my wages when I decide to start working again, but I’d be ok with that — 80% of crazy high might be fine, I’ll manage.

    ETA: I also want more engineers here so companies aren’t looking as aggressively in other countries. I’ll take a lower big payout short term to extend the big payouts longer.

  19. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Michael Cain:
    I’m thinking less about the job concerns than the information. The Russians aren’t entirely transparent. Grab a bunch of Russian scientists and we might learn some things. As for jobs, maybe we can create a new hub. Instead of Silicon Valley or Research Triangle we can call it the Borscht Oblast.

  20. Michael Reynolds says:


    I’d like to see soldiers added to the list. Specifically any that surrender to the Ukrainians.

    Oh, I like that a lot.

  21. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Michael Cain:

    But we currently don’t have enough jobs that take advantage of the current STEM students coming out of college with graduate degrees.

    That’s where the advantage comes in. Wages in STEM fields stay (or get) depressed and retained earnings for the corporations hiring them increase.

    Or did you think this was about FP? (Of course, it could really be about FP with the glutting of a high-wage labor market just a happy coincidence. Or, and more likely, these “brainfarts storms” are people shooting from the hip without considering the larger impacts of the decisions.)

    And in four years when these visas expire (or is it only the opportunity to get one that expires), how many of these people are going to be able to/want to return to Russia?

    But for the opportunity to embarrass Putin (and possibly draw ourselves closer to the brink)? Sure! Why not? Full speed ahead!

  22. Ken_L says:

    One of the factors slowing the development of third world countries is the constant flight of educated citizens to the first world, lured by employment visas and the promise of eventual citizenship. Australia’s health care system, for example, has come to depend on recruiting professionals from the Middle East, Africa and the sub-continent. Not only does this work against the interests of their home countries, whose need for health care professionals is vastly greater than ours, but it has allowed our domestic training and education system to atrophy. Doctors are in constant short supply outside the cities because not enough are graduating from local medical schools. We’re even encouraging people to immigrate if they become qualified accountants or engineers, for God’s sake, with the result our professional postgraduate schools are full of overseas students accumulating points towards permanent residency. Because they pay higher fees than locals, university administrations make little effort to attract the latter if they have a choice.

    Continuing to drain developing countries of their most educated citizens is as much a form of exploitation as buying their exports grown or manufactured at the cost of massive environmental or social degradation which we would never tolerate in our own nations. It’s in our own long-term interests to limit the practice, and invest instead in improving our own training and education infrastructures.

  23. Lounsbury says:

    @Ken_L: Leftist Tiersmondiste nonsense, at once wrong in facts and innumeate in economics.

    People want better lives for themselves, and typically in my investment markets, the shit governments cap off opportunity (and best promotions etc are reserved de facto for the childiren of the Big Families and their entoruages), so there is flight to better opportunities. Of course the tiersmondiste economic innumerates with their naive Juche-esque autarky thinking would rather prefer to have capitive labour unable to seek better deals, forced to take poorly remunerated and poorly organised state and semi-state jobs.

    As for “massive environmental degredation”, it’s not fucking exports that are drivers, it’s corruption. The worst envrionmentally performing production I see regularly are those that are state sponsored (escaping any form of real oversight) and serving protected domestic markets. Economic pressure from population expansion, self-dealing oligarchical corruption (regardless of the ostensible Socialist or Non Socialist character of politics) and self-dealing sans any reference to exporting fuck-all drive terrible environment impacts. Whereas export oriented projects generally have to respond to ESG and avoid.

    People in developing countries have their own agency and White Man’s Burden does not need to be trotted out to explain it – once upon a time, in the first decade prior to and after decolonisation there was real primary drivers, that hasn’t been in drivers seat for decades although the Leftist song on this hasn’t changed a whit.

    Meanwhile the transfers – remittances – back to home country of such emmigrants are a significant source of income and capital for non-elites, and often are the key economic lifelines.

    It’s in protectionist self-dealing dressed up innumeracy to limit people’s ability to emmigrate, whatever façades of justification you erect.


  24. Neil Hudelson says:



    I’m glad you got bored with yourself as well.