In a world where there is a shortage of skills in emerging technologies like artificial intelligence, fostering innovation through conference and research meet-ups is important. Global gatherings of AI/ML researchers and practitioners around the world illustrate the power of collaboration and cross-pollination of ideas. For example, at the recent World Artificial Intelligence Conference in China, more than half of the participants were from outside the country.
But, there have been instances where researchers were denied visas when they were invited for AI conferences abroad. At the 2018 NeurIPS Conference in Montreal, Canada, many Asian, Eastern European, and African invitees were unable to attend due to denied or delayed visa approvals. Invitees from Africa, in particular, were delayed or denied entry into the country at over 50% rate due to alleged security concerns.
Now, Partnership on AI, a non-profit group with 90 member organisations including major universities, large technology companies like Amazon and Baidu, and organisations such as the American Psychological Association and the American Civil Liberties Union, has appealed to world governments to make it an easy process for visa approvals for AI experts. According to PAI, visa laws, policies, and practices are challenging the ability of many communities, including artificial intelligence and machine learning (AI/ML) community, to incorporate diverse voices in their work.
“Due to the emergent and rapidly evolving nature of AI technology, AI, in particular, engenders high impact AI safety and security risks, which can be mitigated by increasing the diversity of participants. Countries lose out on valuable insights from individuals around the globe when officials are Visa Laws, Policies, and Practices required to make decisions based solely on the applicant’s nationality and without specific information to justify a denial,” said Partnership on AI.
Importance Of Free Flow Of Ideas During AI Conferences
PAI has also highlighted the importance of conferences and research meetups for a variety of disciplines that are making important contributions to AI/ML, and makes recommendations for participants and organisers in order to facilitate government review of visa applications so participants can travel to these events. While research papers and presentations are made publicly available online or in published form, presenting a paper at a conference is a uniquely prestigious and valuable experience for experts. Conferences also highlight and promote the work of diverse participants, with an eye towards equity in representation and closing digital divides.
The organisation reported that openness of information and the free-flow and exchange of ideas are fundamental tenets of academic exchange and intellectual progress. It believes that bringing together experts from countries around the world that represent different cultures, socio-economic experiences, backgrounds, and perspectives is essential for AI/ML to flourish and help create the future we desire.
Learnings From Existing Laws In Some Countries
There are some governments which have created visas to facilitate short- and long-term work opportunities for specialised conditions, which PAI says can be modified for quick visa approvals of researchers. The group cited the example of Singapore’s Business Visa is known for its accelerated processing time. Applicants from other countries do not need to obtain a visa to enter Singapore for business purposes as long as the visit does not exceed 90 days. Similarly, Canada’s “Express Entry” system, which is a key element of its “Federal Skilled Worker” economic immigration program offers a model for other countries to implement as they consider applications for permanent legal status from the global AI/ML community. Candidates must first meet the minimum requirements, including skilled work experience, education, and language abilities. After meeting those requirements, the Express Entry program evaluates their application on several selection factors. Those who score highest are more likely to get an invitation to apply for permanent residence.
PAI has also suggested that members of intergovernmental organisations can create visa classifications that enable the free movement of AI/ML multidisciplinary experts and their family members across participating countries. For instance, the United States created a visa for professionals from Canada or Mexico who are working for US or foreign companies on the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) related business.
Experts have made arguments governments should eliminate nationality-based barriers in evaluating visa and permanent residency applications for researchers. Security-based denials of applications should not be nationality-based, but rather should be founded on specific and credible security and public safety threats, evidence of visa fraud, or indications of human trafficking. It is therefore important for governments to pass laws that establish special categories of visas or permits for AI/ML research. This would ensure a seamless flow of diverse ideas which is very critical for the challenges we are facing when it comes to AI research, applications, privacy and regulatory frameworks.
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Vishal Chawla is a senior tech journalist at Analytics India Magazine (AIM) and writes on the latest in the world of analytics, AI and other emerging technologies. Previously, he worked as a senior correspondent for IDG CIO and ComputerWorld. Reach out to Vishal on Twitter @_vishalchawla