International Campus

US may restrict int’l STEM students to curb intellectual theft

The Trump administration’s new National Security Strategy will consider restricting international students from certain designated countries who wish to study STEM subjects in the US in order to prevent technology transfer and intellectual property theft.

The NSS document issued by the White House this week reiterated the administration’s commitment to the increased vetting of foreign nationals by continuing to “review visa procedures to reduce economic theft by nontraditional intelligence collectors”.

In a nod to the importance of international students, who reportedly contributed $36.9 billion to the US economy during the 2016-2017 academic year, the document states: “The United States must continue to attract the innovative and the inventive, the brilliant and the bold”.

It says that the US “will nurture a healthy innovation economy that collaborates with allies and partners, improves STEM education, draws on an advanced technical workforce, and invests in early-stage research and development”.

While supporting apprenticeships and programs that prepare US workers for “high wage…STEM jobs of the 21st century” was listed as a priority to increase the country’s competitive advantage, the document says that the US “will consider restrictions on foreign STEM students from designated countries to ensure that intellectual property is not transferred to our competitors.”

While no further details on which countries would be designated for restrictions, China was cited as a country that “steals US intellectual property valued at hundreds of billions of dollars” every year in the document.

Deputy executive director for Public Policy at NAFSA, Jill Welch, told The PIE News that while the specific details of the White House proposal haven’t been revealed, the reference to restricting STEM students of “certain designated countries” sounds suspiciously like another potentially unjustified and harmful ban.

“The US already has important and thorough measures in place to prevent technology transfer, and policies that treat entire nationalities with suspicion should be measured against whether we are deterring potential allies and strategic collaborations,” she added.

The folly of placing restrictions on international STEM students in the US was highlighted earlier this year when a study by the National Foundation for American Policy a non-partisan policy research group, revealed that planned changes to post-study work arrangements could lead to a loss of investment in the US.

The NFAP study found 81% of the country’s full-time graduate students in electrical engineering and 79% in computer science are international students, with NFAP executive director Stuart Anderson adding that international students are “key” to the country’s future in science and engineering.

Speaking to The PIE News, Anderson said the new restrictions will have a”chilling effect” on applications to US universities and will push hiring of highly skilled individuals in tech fields outside of the US.

“There is a significant risk that any proposal would do far more economic harm to America than the problem it seeks to solve,” he added.