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How the Ministry of Education and Science responds to the U.S. “Visa Lure”

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The administration of U.S. President Joe Biden is rolling out a program to lure Russian researchers to its territory, reports Bloomberg. The program is primarily in the fields of cybersecurity, semiconductors, artificial intelligence, space technology and nuclear engineering. The name of the program speaks for itself: Visa Lure.

A corresponding advertisement has already appeared on social networks. The program offers free 10-minute tests for scientists who want to obtain a U.S. Green Card, the results of which give the receiving party an understanding of the merits and degree of talent of the applicant. Decorations, certificates, professional association memberships, scholarly publications, recommendations from influential peers, and even a higher-than-average income are acceptable for a portfolio.

Unlike the previous programs, today getting visa EB-1A (for foreigners "with extraordinary ability") or EB-2 NIW (national interest waiver) does not require to present information about a future American employer. In addition, there is no requirement to take an English test. There are no limits on the number of people entering on these visas.

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For the United States, the concept of an immigration magnet has been a key one throughout its history. Targeted mass recruitment of scientists has been particularly active since the end of World War II. In the fifties alone, the country welcomed about 100,000 highly qualified specialists; and from 1961 to 1980, more than half a million people.

Unlike the U.S., the Soviet Union was more of a donor than a recipient in the fight for brains. The emigration to Israel was particularly marked in terms of intellectual loss. Much of it eventually took root in American universities and high-tech companies. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, the movement of scientists to the West became a systemic phenomenon. The Education Commission of the Council of Europe estimates Russia's annual loss from the brain drain at $50 billion (13 percent of 2002 federal budget revenues at current exchange rates).

Despite such alarming signals, the Ministry of Education and Science of the Russian Federation states a positive balance in the migration of intellectual personnel. According to their information (based on data from the Higher School of Economics, HSE), 2.5 times more scientists entered the country in 2021 than left.

"So our country becomes attractive for foreign specialists, a comfortable place to make scientific discoveries and create breakthrough developments. <...>

Thus, the HSE study does not confirm the statements made earlier in the public space that the outflow of scientists from the country does not stop," says the head of the Ministry of Education and Science Valery Falkov.

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The Minister refutes the critics by referring to the HSE study, silent, however, about their warning about the risk of a "brain drain" from Russia "against the backdrop of an intensifying global struggle for talent. According to the university's estimates, 60-75% of postgraduate students in the academic track of leading universities leave Russia. In the advanced fields of natural and technical sciences this share reaches 80%. It is clear that someone is coming back. But the very fact that even the most liberal experts recognize the risk of the country losing its intellectual potential is evidence of a serious crisis. The reputation of the Higher School of Economics in this respect is well known.

In April 2022, they released a new report, which says that from 1996 to 2020, 5.2% of Russian scientists "switched affiliations to foreign ones". In neurobiology, mathematics, biochemistry, and pharmacology, the losses are even greater.

Affiliation is quite a clear term. It comes from the Latin filialis, that is, filial. Or subsidiary, to use economic terminology (subsidiary company). We are talking about scientists who do not consider Russia their main place of work and life. At the beginning of 2021 in our country there were 679.3 thousand researchers, 5.2% - more than 35 thousand people. Surely the most talented and promising. Others, as we know from Visa Lure requirements, are not in demand abroad.

The above data no longer allow us to hide the reality behind talk about the beneficial "circulation of minds," which supposedly always benefits both the receiving and the transmitting side. International academic exchange is certainly a positive phenomenon, but only if the parties are equal. And, of course, without a change of affiliation. There are positive examples. They include, for example, the practice of organizing international scientific cooperation at St. Petersburg Mining University.

"Today our students successfully study in Austria and Germany under double and triple master's degree programs, and graduate students do research internships under the joint program "Natural Resources - Energy - Sustainability" at leading German universities. The programs are funded by the International Center of Competence in Mining Education under the auspices of UNESCO, established on the basis of St. Petersburg Mining University, and the German Academic Exchange Service DAAD (for graduate students).

Each participant of the international programs signs an individual liability agreement, which contains both serious financial guarantees from the university and obligations of the students, including in terms of continuing their scientific career at the Mining University, which is rightfully considered the world's model higher education institution in the field of mineral resources.

It is important to note that young scientists do not perceive these obligations as an undesirable burden, because they clearly understand the direction of their further development in the academic environment. Entering the global academic space raises their research work in Russia to a qualitatively new level. The favorable social, educational and scientific environment created at the University of Mining guarantees effective continuation of education and research," Alexandra Kopteva, Vice-Rector for International Activities at the University of Mining, told Forpost.

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Горный университет
Four students of St. Petersburg Mining University have defended their Master’s degree theses under the triple diploma program “Modern methods of development of mineral resources.” Now each of them will become the owner of three certificates of higher education at once: from the Freiberg Mining Academy (Germany), the Leoben Mining University (Austria), and their alma mater.
(Will Russian students who received European-type diplomas leave for the West?)

The methodology of current national statistics on international academic exchange does not allow us to separate such projects from undesirable academic emigration. The data are grouped in such a way that it is difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff. Experts repeatedly emphasize the imperfection of the domestic system for monitoring academic mobility. They speak directly about the impossibility of distinguishing between non-return and temporary migration, the fragmentary nature of the data, and their only indirect reflection of the real situation.

With such imperfect monitoring tools, the Ministry of Education and Science nevertheless prioritizes international exchange as an end in itself. The solution to the problem of retaining high-class researchers is mostly left to domestic universities and scientific organizations themselves, which are usually very limited in funds.

How can they compete with their German colleagues when university researchers there earn an average of 76,000 euros a year, have a full social package and good career prospects. In the U.S., tenure contracts, which guarantee lifelong income, are added to this package.