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NIH Visitor Clearance Incidents

National Institutes of Health Clinical Center Building

Recently, two individuals visiting the National Institutes of Health (NIH) campus were faced with considerable hardship regarding their admittance. One student was escorted from the property during his scientific presentation and another guest was forced to miss the first day of a meeting.

Since 2011, the United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) policy has required foreign nationals from Iran, North Korea, Syria, and Sudan to be pre-cleared 10 days prior to arrival. NIH is in the process of reviewing procedures and operations to better communicate this policy and ensure respect is granted to our visitors regardless of their nationality.

NIH Director, Dr. Francis S. Collins, M.D. Ph.D., has formally addressed NIH staff and extended apologies to both visitors on behalf of NIH. The Office of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) would like to reinforce this apology and encourage respect for our diverse visitors.

National origin is a protected identity under federal law for employees. This means that an employer (or potential employer) cannot legally discriminate against anyone in the workplace on the basis of national origin.

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Dr. Collins’ statement:

Message from the NIH Director: Follow-up to Visitor Clearance Incidents

Friday, April 5,2019 at 12:10 PM

Dear NIH Family:

I have learned of a recent unfortunate circumstance in which the visitor clearance process was mishandled by security staff for a visitor to the NIH campus. This involved a non-U.S. citizen graduate student who was on campus to apply for a postdoctoral position. He was interrupted during his scientific presentation and escorted from the NIH campus. I am deeply troubled by this event and have extended a personal apology to this individual. I also have learned of another non-U.S. citizen who had to miss the first day of a two-day meeting because of visitor clearance issues. I am also reaching out to that person to express regret.

There has been an HHS policy in place since 2011 requiring foreign nationals from the four countries declared as state sponsors of terrorism by the Department of State (Iran, North Korea, Syria, Sudan) to be pre-cleared 10 days prior to coming to NIH. However, this policy has not been well communicated. We are reviewing procedures associated with this policy to ensure that all our guests, regardless of where they are from, are treated with the utmost respect and consideration, and that NIH staff understand their responsibilities in ensuring the necessary requirements are met. These procedures will be communicated clearly in the coming weeks to all NIH staff. Additionally, we will identify ways to improve training of security personnel to prevent this kind of episode from happening again.

Sincerely yours,

Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D.
Director

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