Thursday, 6 April 2017

Coming to America?

Solar Eclipse Conference 2014 (New Mexico USA)
Eclipse chasers are an international community. Because eclipse chasing involves travel all around the world it is necessary to navigate the international travel visas, restrictions, and so on to get to the eclipse path. Sometimes getting a visa is not an easy situation, which can be greatly exasperated when the eclipse is only visible inside of one country - and that country imposes restrictions. I first encountered that when going to the USSR in 1981 to a total solar eclipse. The authorities (on both sides) were not easy to convince. To get into the USSR required invitations (granted to eclipse travel groups) and then individual visas. On arrival our equipment was carefully checked and recorded. Oddly they did not check serial numbers and so on as we left. But it was still a bit of an uneasy situation.

Well, this summer's TSE only touches the USA and for many eclipse chasers, this presents a problem. Several eclipse chasers have been denied visas (after filling out the proper forms and visiting the embassy) and of course, there is a travel ban for people from a certain set of countries.

We experienced our own difficulties trying to bring two friends from the West Indies (Jamaica). They filled out the DS-160 (an exhaustive multiple page web form), paid the fee of US $160, scheduled a visit to the embassy, and then went to visit the embassy. At the embassy, officers asked a variety of questions including "Why do you want to see the eclipse?" (a rather stupid question from an eclipse chasers point of view yet perfectly valid one from someone who doesn't know about eclipses). The result was that one was granted a visa, the other was not. And the really odd thing was that the gentleman rejected was told to apply for a work visa (he does not want to work in the USA, just visit and see a total solar eclipse).

I have heard of other eclipse chasers having trouble getting visas to come visit the USA and see the eclipse from countries such as Ireland, Romania, and others. Most of the time, visas are granted but for a small number of unfortunate people, getting one is proving very difficult.

Of course, there are also eclipse chasers from a small set of countries are automatically rejected due to difficulties vetting people from those lands.  The situation is very unfortunate since other options are simply do not exist. (Ships and planes would have to come near to the USA border but not enter.) I just hope that issue can be cleared up in time for the eclipse. It would be tragic if astronomers could not come due solely to their country of origin. Most scientists are not political (until funding or tenure is involved) thus it is difficult to comprehend.

If you are reading this blog entry and have any ideas on how to help people stuck in the visa situation, please leave a comment or contact me directly. There are others out there facing the same problem so your input might be just what they need to get to totality in August.

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