A short dissent on USA eligibility

Sometime this week the American Math Competitions released the following new policy:

For the IMO, EGMO, RMM, TSTSTs, and TSTs, and MOP, students must be US citizens or US permanent residents. Visas are not a valid substitute. (AMC Policies)

I want to make a rather brief statement on why I was opposed to this change. To do this I want to draw an analogy. In the American Math Competitions, students are asked what gender they identify with, which is used to determine whether the are eligible for the European Girl’s Math Olympiad and also for invitations to MOP.

This means that in theory, you could try to abuse the system by deliberately misrepresenting your self-identified gender. But in practice, nobody has attempted this. So, we continue to allow students to self-identify their gender, in order to make sure to be inclusive to students with gender dysphoria, and trusting our students to have the integrity to report their gender honestly. The other is to be exclusive and follow the sex assigned at birth, which closes a potential loophole that nobody was exploiting.

I think we should have done the same with visa-holding students.

A student with, say, an F-1 visa, is also in between two points, and there is a spectrum of how much time they have spent in the US. Sometimes they have been in the US for only a short time, other times, they have been studying in the USA for all of high school and participated multiple times in AMC/AIME/USAMO track; and then go on to MIT for another four years, and so on. No matter what they do, there will be some eyebrows raised. If they compete with the United States, some people will complain they are not proper citizens; if they compete with their home country, some people will complain they are too American.

Again we have two options. One is to be inclusive and allow anyone legally residing in the United States and feeling they identify as American a chance to represent us. This is what we have done for the last 20-ish years, and I stand behind these teams. The other is to be exclusive and follow legal citizenship, again closing a loophole that nobody was exploiting. Though I understand the rationale, I am still saddened to hear that we have changed to the latter, and I am worried about the message that we send when we tell certain people they are no longer welcome in the USA math community.

(I do believe that one should not compete for spots on more than one IMO country in the same calendar year, even as a dual national. This was the main reason I felt comfortable competing for Taiwan in 2014, because I was no longer eligible to compete for the United States.)

So that is my public statement, but I have one more thing to add. I am hearing lots and lots of rumors going around claiming that specific students (by name) should not have been allowed on the team or even were taking advantage of the USA system in bad faith. To that I have to ask: please don’t spread rumors like this if you don’t know the students in question. It’s not nice to talk about kids you don’t even know behind their backs; but also please take my word for it when I say some of you are really picking the wrong targets.


On a definitely-kinda-related note, the USEMO for this year is gonna be October 30 and October 31, and remains open to anyone who is studying in an American school, even on a visa :) or otherwise identifies as American. If you don’t identify as American you’re instead invited to come to grading or propose problems, or both!