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Citizenship privilege harms science

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Nature, April 2024

Imagine you want to attend a research conference in the United States this autumn. If you are from most nations in the global north, there’s probably still plenty of time to make arrangements. But, according to our analysis, citizens from 132 of the 134 countries in the global south need a visa to visit the United States, whereas this is true for people from only 20 of the 61 countries in the global north. (See Supplementary information for how we designated global south countries.) And obtaining those visas is not straightforward: as of 4 April, the next available appointment at the US consulate in New Delhi, India, is not until October. It’s February 2025 at the consulate in Cotonou, Benin, and March 2026 in Bogotá, Colombia.

It’s not just trips to the United States that are problematic. Scholars from the global south face obstacles when travelling to many hotspots for scientific research, which include Canada, Japan and most European countries. By contrast, citizens from more than 80% of countries in the global north need no visa to go to Germany or Japan.

Visa costs are higher for people in economically weak countries than for those living elsewhere1. Citizens of southern Asia must pay almost US$59, on average, for a tourist visa to another country — equivalent to 2 weeks of work for an average earner in this region. Those in sub-Saharan Africa pay $52, equating to 3 weeks’ work. Yet citizens in Western Europe pay less than $18, on average, which could be equivalent to less than an hour’s work.

On arrival in some countries, people travelling from the global south might also have to show months of financial statements and prove that they have received particular vaccinations. They might be denied entry despite meeting these requirements.

Read more at Nature.

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