I’m at the IETF meeting in San Francisco this week, and a big topic of discussion, as has been for the last several U.S. meetings, is the difficulty of getting travel visas to the United States, especially (but by no means exclusively) for our technical contributors from China.
At the previous IETF meeting, in Minneapolis, we had at least 50 Chinese participants who couldn’t attend because they couldn’t get visas. I don’t have the numbers for this time, but it’s a bunch. And I talked with an attendee from a Chinese company who’s here on a Canadian passport and who said that almost no one from his company coming from China with a Chinese passport was able to make it.
People from other countries are complaining about it too. Some say it takes too long to get a visa — 3 or 4 months in some cases — and some are just denied.
These are not terrorists. These people are threats to no one. They have good jobs back home, in high-tech companies, and they’re coming here to do collaborative work with people from all over the world. There’s no good reason to deny them travel visas.
Because the IETF’s participants come from all over the world, the meetings move around, and the organization tries to divide every six meetings this way: three in North America, two in Europe, one in Asia. And as a result of the ongoing visa problem, they’re shifting more of the North America meetings into Canada. For 2010, two U.S. meetings had been planned, but it’s just been announced that the one in November 2010 will be held in Canada or Asia instead. Many participants are calling for an elimination of U.S. meetings entirely, in favour of Canada.
And the IETF has let the U.S. Department of State know. If they continue to refuse visas for legitimate business meetings, organizations like the IETF will move more and more of their business to other countries, resulting in significant revenue loss — both from the meetings themselves and from collateral tourism — for the host cities in our country. And it will not happen through the State Department’s ignorance. They know.