permits for visiting scholars

Joseph Laferriere joseph at BIO2.COM
Wed Jul 19 12:49:00 CDT 1995

I have a suggestion stemming indirectly from the discussion over the past
few weeks about biologists visiting other countries. My suggestion is that
someone create a centralized source of information on what the requirements
are for doing biological research in various countries. This could either be
in the form of a book comparable to Index Herbariorum or on-line.
   I think this would be immensely valuable in helping people track down
information and make appropriate contacts. Scholars in a particular country
often do not know their own laws in this regards; I must say that if someone
asked me the requirements for a foreigner working in the US, I would not
even know who to ask. In my experience working overseas, writing letters to
foreign embassies is not necessary fruitful, either. Having this info in a
central place would save people from having to run around trying to
understand the maze of a foreign beaurocracy.
   Please note that I am not suggesting  (as one person said last week) that
people use ignorance of the law as an excuse for not following the law. It
is mandatory that visiting scholars make every attempt to obey the laws and
customs of a forerign country. A database such as I suggest would help
people find out what the laws say.
   Countries have every right to protect their own territory and their own
natural researchers. Visitors have a responsibility to accept this right and
abide by it. My own feeling is that countries also have a responsibility to
visitors to make the laws clear and unambiguous. Applications for permits
should not be open to arbitrary veto for no reason. This was my experience
in Indonesia two years ago. In Indonesia, an application to do fieldwork has
to be cleared by a committee consisting of representatives from each of half
a dozen goverrment agencies. Once the application has been approved, the
visitor has to visit the office of each agency in person, despite the fact
that these very same agencies have already approved the permit. At each
office, the visitor is expected to produce a mountain of paperwork. One
place even wanted a letter from a neighbor in Bogor saying I really did live
where I said I did. The problem is that before I started this I aasked four
people what offices I had to visit and what I had to bring to each one. I
got four completely different replies. Halfway through this ordeal, I
suggested to the person at the national biology institute charged with
helping foreigners that it would really help if someone would write down a
list of this type of information. He reached into his file cabinet and
pulled out a flow chart with 15 boxes and 18 arrows and said "This part's
been changed, and you've already done this part, and you don't have to do
this part, and there's another thing not on here that you do have to do ..."
Every office I went, I was told "It will take about 3 or 4 days to get you
this letter of approval, but we do have this 'servis ekspres' which costs a
bit of money, but we can have it for you this afternoon ..." Every office
has the power to veto the procedure without giving any reason whatsoever.
Thus months or years of planning and investing in a research project can be
scuttled at the whim of some beaurocrat wanting a bigger "servis ekspres"
fee. I am perfectly willing to acceed to reasonable requirements for sharing
information, but this procedure of theirs stopped being reasonable at about
the second office visit. The inevitable result of a system like theirs is
that foreigners shy away from working there. Thus the locals lose out on
foreign capital and foreign training they might otherwise receive.

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