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Indian MIT students' big idea caught in US visa limbo

Anurag Bajpayee
Anurag Bajpayee

Washington, Feb 19 (IANS) An innovative system developed by two Indian post-doctoral mechanical engineers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) to transform the white-hot fracking industry is caught in a US visa limbo, according to a media report.
The system developed by Anurag Bajpayee and Prakash Narayan Govindan offers a cheaper, cleaner way to dispose of the billions of gallons of contaminated water produced by oil and natural gas hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, the Washington Post reported Tuesday.
It “just might be a breakthrough that creates wealth and jobs in the United States and transforms the white-hot industry,” it said. “That is, as long as the foreign-born inventors aren’t forced to leave the country.”
Prakash Narayan Govindan
Prakash Narayan Govindan

They, according to the Post, say they are about to close on millions of dollars in financing, and they expect to hire 100 employees in the next couple of years.
Scientific American magazine called the water-decontamination technology developed by Bajpayee one of the top 10 “world-changing ideas” of 2012.
But their student visas expire soon, both before summer, and because of the restrictive US visa system, they may have to move their company to India or another country, the Post said.
Even as Washington is focused on the issue of 11 million undocumented migrants, the influential US daily used the plight of the Indian duo to illustrate the vagaries of “immigration laws that chase away highly skilled foreigners educated in US universities, often with degrees funded by US taxpayers”.
It costs about $250,000 to educate a single PhD student and the US government pays for at least 80 percent of MIT’s graduate research, according to Leon Sandler, executive director of MIT’s Deshpande Centre for Technical Innovation, cited by the Post.
“Essentially we are funding their research, spending a quarter-million dollars in taxpayer money; then we make it hard for these people to stay here,” Sandler was quoted as saying.
His group helps start-ups and provided nearly $150,000 to support Bajpayee and Narayan. “If you want more innovation in this country, fix the visa situation,” he said.
Bajpayee and Narayan want to stay in the United States, according to the Post. They don’t want to move to Chile or Israel or Singapore, which seem too small and too far from their main markets in the US oil and gas fields.
But if they can’t legally stay in the United States, they have other options to consider, they were quoted as saying noting their biggest financial backer is Indian and is pressuring them to build their company at home.
“If it doesn’t happen in the US,” Narayan said, “we will make it happen somewhere else.”

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