Albert Einstein on U.S. Visa Policy

For all those engineers and scientists with peeves about Visas Mantis Security Advisory Opinions (SAOs) and other U.S. visa policies, here’s a blast from the past. Albert Einstein is the world’s most famous theoretical physicist. He entered the U.S. in 1933 and chose to settle here after the Nazi party came to power in his native Germany. He voiced his concerns about U.S. visa policy in the October 1952 edition of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists:

The free unhampered exchange of ideas and scientific conclusions is necessary for the sound development of science, as it is in all spheres of cultural life. In my opinion there can be no doubt that the intervention of political authorities of this country in the free exchange of knowledge between individuals has already had significantly damaging effects. First of all, all damage is to be seen in the field of scientific work proper, and after a while, it will become evident in technology and industrial production.

The intrusion of the political authorities into the scientific life of our country is especially evident in the obstruction of the travels of American scientists and scholars abroad and of foreign scientists seeking to come to this country. Such petty behavior on the part of a powerful country is only peripheral symptoms of an ailment which has deeper roots.

Interference, with the freedom of the oral and written communication of scientific results, the widespread attitude of political distrust which is supported by an immense police organization, the timidity and the anxiety of individuals to avoid everything which might cause suspicion and which could threaten their economic position–all there are only symptoms, even though they reveal more clearly the threatening character of the illness.

The real ailment, however, seems to me to lie in the attitude which was created by the world war and which dominated all of or actions, namely, the belief that we must in peacetime so organize our whole life and work that in the event of war we would be sure of victory. This attitude gives rise to the belief that one’s freedom and indeed one’s existence are threatened by powerful enemies.

This attitude explains all of the unpleasant facts which we have designated above as symptoms. It must, if it does not rectify itself, lead to war and to very far reaching destruction. It finds its expression in the budget of the United States.

Only if we overcome this obsession can we really turn our attention in a reasonable way to the real political problem which is, “How can we contribute to make the life of man on this diminishing earth more secure and more tolerable?”

It will be impossible to cure ourselves of the symptoms we have mentioned and many others if we do not overcome the deeper ailment which is affecting us.

Einstein on U.S. Visa Policy
Einstein had harsh words for “petty” U.S. policies “obstruct[ing] the travels” of foreign scientists seeking to come to the U.S.
Einstein wrote this the same year that the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 (the McCarran-Walter Act) became law. It barred “subversives” and authorized the deportation of immigrants who joined “Communist and Communist-front” organizations. This strengthened existing laws targeting Communists, including the Alen Registration Act of 1940 (the Smith Act), which criminalized association with any group advocating the violent overthrow of the U.S. government, and was used to jail or deport hundreds of Communists during the Cold War.
Co-sponsor Senator Pat McCarran argued in favor of the Act’s ideological grounds of exclusion and deportation, as well as as immigration quotas based on national origin–with especially restrictive quotas for Asian nationalities. McCarran’s arguments strike my 21st-century sensibilities as alarmist and racist :
I believe that this nation is the last hope of Western civilization and if this oasis of the world shall be overrun, perverted, contaminated or destroyed, then the last flickering light of humanity will be extinguished. I take no issue with those who would praise the contributions which have been made to our society by people of many races, of varied creeds and colors. America is indeed a joining together of many streams which go to form a mighty river which we call the American way. However, we have in the United States today hard-core, indigestible blocs which have not become integrated into the American way of life, but which, on the contrary are its deadly enemies. Today, as never before, untold millions are storming our gates for admission and those gates are cracking under the strain. The solution of the problems of Europe and Asia will not come through a transplanting of those problems en masse to the United States…. I do not intend to become prophetic, but if the enemies of this legislation succeed in riddling it to pieces, or in amending it beyond recognition, they will have contributed more to promote this nation’s downfall than any other group since we achieved our independence as a nation.
(Cong. Rec., March 2, 1953, p. 1518.)
President Truman’s views were closer to Einstein’s. Truman felt the Act was “un-American” and discriminatory. He vetoed the Act, but his veto was overriden, so the Act became law.
As a result of his political stances, Einstein was the target of a lengthy FBI probe. His stances included not just defense of freedom of political association but also critisism of capitalism as “predatory” and opposition to a U.S. monopoly on nuclear weapons. While the FBI proceeded with its probe, the Immigration and Naturalization Service carried out an investigation as to whether his U.S. citizenship should be revoked and he should be deported. The FBI investigation wasn’t closed until after Einstein’s death in 1955.

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