Trump’s Muslim ban is building walls around science

Not just the information technology industry in the US and India, but even leaders of the biotechnology industry are unnerved by the visa and travel restrictions the Trump administration has unleashed.

Both sectors thrive on innovation and new ideas, and depend on the flow of talent from around the world. This free flow in these industries has helped the US attain a leadership position, catalysing local development and growth in other countries.

Most of the research and development (R&D) and innovation in the life sciences industry is global. New ideas and technologies may emerge in one country, take shape in another and find application somewhere else. This sector thrives on start-ups, which are a key part of the value chain. Many big corporations are constantly scouting for innovation from start-ups around the world, bringing the potential ones over and integrating them into larger projects.

New product development can take place simultaneously across continents. It’s in this backdrop that leaders of the biotech industry have written an open letter against the visa ban to President Trump in the scientific journal Nature Biotechnology.

The letter points out that the US has greatly benefited from foreign nationals. More than half of the 69,000 biomedical researchers in the US were born outside. Researchers, clinicians, entrepreneurs and business executives from all over the world are responsible for the driving economic growth and employment provided in the sector.

In the past 19 years, American companies spent over Rs 92,41,36 crore ($138 billion) to acquire R&D-stage emerging companies from all over. Another Rs 108,28,48 crore ($161.7 billion) was spent to acquire market-ready companies. Such acquisitions have helped American firms shorten market-to-time of new drugs and medical interventions. Many have established research units in countries where high quality talent is available in specialised subjects.

The fears of the biotech industry are real. While the travel ban covers only seven Muslim countries, the letter points out that it’s already causing a ripple effect on people from other countries as well.

“Our global employees interpret the underlying message as, ‘America is no longer welcoming of any immigrants, whatsoever.’ They fear similar orders could be issued for other countries at a moment’s notice. They fear being stigmatised and discriminated against, simply because of their religion, irrespective of the nation they come from,” the letter has stated.

Several biotech companies, it says, have heard from employees about fears of deportation and how their employees are feeling uncomfortable leaving the country on work or personal travel. Over a period of time, such atmosphere can erode human capital of companies working in cutting-edge areas. Overall, it can have an adverse effect on new biomedical research globally.

While the reason behind the visa ban — need to prevent terrorist elements from entering American borders — may have a rationale, the way it has been conceived and executed could end up being counter-productive for the American economy as well as knowledge industry globally.

The Article First Appeared In DailyO


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