Postdoctoral research is usually offered to those with advanced degrees who would like to receive additional training in a particular field. In terms of immigration, many non-citizens already in the United States make up the postdoc field, doing research work in labs and universities around the country and honing their own technical skills for career skills. Postdoc research is also one way for foreign nationals to satisfy their degree commitments while being able to remain in the United States.
According to the National Foundation for American Policy, postdocs assist in critical research and also help drive innovation in our country. They essentially help spur research initiatives including grant funding for new projects from computer science to engineering.
Postdocs however are usually on J-1 visas which means that according to Covid-19 regulations, they do not qualify for an immediate National Interest Exception (NIE) if they were to leave the country and want to re-enter. This is currently presenting serious problems for postdocs in the U.S. In this post, we will cover some of the issues with the NIE and why it is important for these class of visa holders to be able to re-enter the United States.
If you are a green card holder in the United States (or a U.S. citizen), your permanent resident card will allow you to travel in and out of the United States (internationally) fairly easily. However visa holders are currently having more problems as they are not able to leave the US whenever they feel like. In fact, if you are a J-1 visa holder and leave the US, you will need to apply for an NIE before leaving so you can be admitted back into the country.
This presents problems because the NIE takes at least 60 days to issue, meaning that many postdocs are simply unable to leave the country if there were some type of family emergency they needed to attend to. In addition, sometimes the USCIS can experience delays in issuing postdocs NIEs so they will have to wait much longer than anticipated if they need to ever leave the U.S. for an emergency.
What is an NIE?
The National Interest Exception—NIE, is a policy that has been put in place by the Biden Administration (and the Trump Administration as well) as well that effectively blocks certain classes of immigrants from travelling to the United States unless they meet the conditions for a national interest exception. The policy is currently still in effect for a host of different countries, available here: https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/us-visas/visa-information-resources/covid-19-travel-restrictions-and-exceptions.html. In addition, the policy presents an opportunity for F and M student visa holders to immediately qualify for an NIE when re-entering the United States, but this is still not an option for J-1 visa holders, a class of non-immigrant.
Problems for Academic Institutions
The current presidential proclamations in place are creating problems for postdoc researchers who want to leave the United States for international travel, but would be unable to do so for fear of abandoning their status.
In addition, many J-1 visa holders are unable to change their status to H1-B visas until they satisfy the two year residency requirement—which states that those who come the U.S. in J-1 status cannot become permanent residents in the U.S., change status in the U.S., or get work or family-based visa status such as H, L or K until they return to their country for a period of two years.