African and Asian researchers are hampered by visa problems

Researchers from these continents are three to four times more likely to experience visa problems when travelling for work than are Europeans and Americans.

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A man cuts passport photos of a woman at a photography studio in Mali

Researchers in Africa are least likely to relocate to another country for work.Credit: Nicolas Remene/Anadolu Agency/Getty

Going to a conference? Good luck getting a visa.

Researchers from Africa and Asia still encounter much greater obstacles in getting visas to visit other countries for work than do those from Europe or North America. They are also less likely to visit another country for research, according to a global survey of academics’ movements.

Asian researchers were more than four times, and African ones more than three times, as likely as European or North American researchers to report visa-related obstacles to travelling for work, according to a survey of 2,465 researchers from 109 countries (see ‘Visa troubles’).

The poll included 494 researchers in Africa and 457 in Asia, and was conducted by the RAND Corporation for the Wellcome Trust, a research charity in London, and the Together Science Can Campaign, which promotes international collaboration.

One-quarter of surveyed researchers from Africa and Asia had also encountered visa issues that affected long-term relocation to another country.

The most common complaints globally involved the length of time needed to process a visa request, the complexity of application forms, costs associated with making an application and a lack of clarity on rules and procedures.

Around 45% of researchers with an African nationality reported travelling to another country for work very rarely, compared with around 17% of European researchers.

African researchers were also least likely to relocate for a year or more in pursuit of opportunities outside their home countries, and were more likely than others to cite a lack of information about work opportunities abroad as a reason for not moving.

Hidden roots

The survey allowed the authors to identify patterns of behaviour, drivers and barriers, but not why such differences in travel opportunities come about, says Gordon McInroy, an analyst at RAND Europe in Cambridge, UK.

Many respondents fear that travel might become even harder, given looming events such as Brexit and changes in the US political climate.

And according to Herman Manyora, a linguist at the University of Nairobi, some countries — including Kenya — have an extra obstacle in that researchers are required to seek clearance from the authorities before travelling.

“Delays in processing of visas by host countries that are made worse by lack of sufficient information on both sides is another challenge,” says Manyora.

Many researchers are also affected by austerity measures at their institutions, he adds, forcing them to seek other sources of funding to finance their travel.

This view is echoed by Wangai Ndirangu, an engineer at Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology, in Nairobi, who adds that research mobility is also affected by the availability of opportunities for research collaborations, which are still not very common in Africa.

doi: 10.1038/d41586-018-06750-1

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