US in move that may bar foreign researchers

Edward Alden and Stephanie Kirchgaessnen – The Financial Times

Copyright The Financial Times
Published: November 24 2005
The US government is poised to propose rules that could restrict the
ability of Chinese and other foreign nationals to engage in high-level research in the country, a plan that is generating fierce opposition from companies and universities.
The move comes amid growing fears in the US that its relatively open
rules allowing foreign nationals to work with sensitive technologies leave the country open to espionage.
Law enforcement and intelligence officials fear China in particular
could be using some of its more than 150,000 students in the US to spy on behalf of Beijing.
In a few weeks, the commerce department is expected to respond to a
report by its inspector-general, which warned of the espionage risks last year.
The inspector-general’s proposal called for an expansion of the rules that restrict the sharing of advanced technologies with foreign nationals.
Under existing law, companies or universities are required to seek a
government export licence if they allow citizens from controlled
countries, most prominently China, to engage in research involving technologies with potential military uses.
But licences are not required if a Chinese national becomes a citizen
or a permanent resident in another country – such as Canada or the UK – which is not subject to stringent US export controls.
There are particular concerns about the tens of thousands of Chinese
who have taken out citizenship in countries that exchange technology freely with the US.
The proposal under consideration would expand the so-called “deemed
export” requirement to cover anyone born in China or other controlled countries such as Iran and North Korea, even if they had taken out citizenship in another country.
The idea has particularly angered US universities, which have seen the enrolment of foreign students drop sharply owing to the stricter visa requirements imposed after the September 11 2001 terror attacks.
International student enrolment at US colleges and universities has
fallen by 1.3 per cent in the last academic year, following a 2.4 per cent fall the year before.
“The most alarming outcome of this proposed rule will be the
substantial negative impact on attracting the best and brightest people from round the world to participate in the conduct of basic and applied research, which is of extraordinary social and economic value to the nation,” wrote Robert Goldston, director of the Princeton Plasma Physics laboratory, in one of hundreds of comments sent to the commerce department in the past six months.
Lawyers and lobbyists following the debate in the US government say the
administration might opt for a less restrictive rule than that proposed
in
the inspector-general’s report.
A senior commerce department official said that whatever rule was
adopted
would “strive to protect national security while meeting the needs of
industry and academia”.
“Controls on the release of technology to foreign nationals in the US
must
– and can – protect national security while allowing business and
the
academic research community to employ the world’s best minds, no
matter
their nationality.”


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