A U.S. House bill aimed at boosting American competitiveness would exempt STEM Ph.D. graduates from numerical limits on immigrant visas — and require them to pay a supplemental fee to fund scholarships for low-income American students in science and engineering.
The measure would effectively staple a green card to the doctoral diploma of qualifiying international students in STEM, a long-held priority of college groups. The green-card exemption would also extend to immigrants who earn STEM Ph.D.s from foreign universities, if they are equivalent.
The America COMPETES Act
is the House counterpart to Senate legislation
passed last year aimed at countering Chinese competitiveness. Like the Senate measure, the bill, which could be taken up as soon as this week, contains a number of new reporting requirements for colleges and researchers engaged in international collaborations. It also provides millions in new federal R&D spending, much of which could go to universities.
But the legislation also has some surprising new provisions — for one, it would set up a U.S. government program for the study of Chinese language to replace Chinese-funded Confucius Institutes.
Buried in the 2,912- page bill are a number of provisions that are important to international education. Let’s run through them:
The bill would prohibit federal-grant recipients from participating in “malign” foreign talent recruitment programs, including those sponsored by the governments of China, Iran, and Russia. Researchers and colleges would have to certify that no members of their research team are participants in the programs, which seek to gain expertise by offering foreign researchers stipends and appointments.
Colleges would be required to disclose any foreign grants or contracts of $100,000 or more in one year or $250,000 over three years to the U.S. Department of Education. While the House bill lowers the threshold for annual reporting from the amount in current law, $250,000, the Senate measure went further, mandating disclosure of $50,000 or more from an overseas source.
- Individual faculty and staff members would be required to report contracts or gifts from foreign entities of $50,000 or more — a new requirement. The bill also spells out processes for both colleges and the Education Department to follow.
The measure would put in place new transparency requirements for Confucius Institutes, the Chinese language and cultural centers. The Education Department, in consultation with the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine, would review all Confucius Institute agreements to ensure that they protect academic freedom and give full managerial and curricular control to the American partner. Colleges that fail to comply could lose access to federal higher-education funding.
This language doesn’t go as far as the Senate bill, which would have barred Education and National Science Foundation funding to colleges that host Confucius Institutes.
- Nonetheless, the bill’s authors make clear they would like to see alternatives to the centers. The legislation would set up the Liu Xiaobo Fund for the Study of Chinese Language within the U.S. Department of State, named for the Chinese human-rights advocate and Nobel Peace Prize winner, to fund study of Mandarin and Cantonese Chinese as well as Tibetan, Uyghur, Mongolian, and 24 other contemporary spoken languages of China.
- It also establishes a new United States-Taiwan Cultural Exchange Foundation to send high school and college students to Taiwan to study Chinese language, culture, and politics. Taiwan has been trying to position itself as an option for Chinese study.
International education programs under Title VI of the Higher Education Act would be reauthorized to increase and expand foreign-language and area studies at American universities. The bill specifically seeks to grow international-education capacity at minority-serving institutions.
Finally, the bill would exempt STEM Ph.D.s (and their spouses and children) from the green-card cap, provided they are planning to work in the United States in a related field.
- It also would charge them a supplemental fee of $1,000 to go to scholarships to help low-income U.S. students study STEM.
Caveats, caveats. This legislative proposal is just a starting point. It could face opposition, and individual provisions will almost certainly change. More than 500 amendments have been submitted to the House Rules Committee, among them proposals to lower the threshold for universities to report foreign funds, bar colleges with Confucius Institutes from receiving any federal money, and include international graduates in health-related disciplines in the STEM exemption.
A fast track? House leaders have said the bill is a priority, and heading off the economic and innovation threat posed by China is one of the few issues that receives bipartisan agreement these days. Although there are differences between the bills, “the Democratic leadership in both the House and the Senate will see this thing across the goal line,” Sen. Todd C. Young, the legislation’s top Republican sponsor in the Senate, said last week.
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