Foreign Talent Programs

Defining Foreign Talent Programs

Many countries sponsor talent recruitment programs for legitimate purposes of attracting researchers in targeted fields, and many programs utilize legitimate means of attracting talent, including offering research fellowships and grants to incentivize researchers to physically relocate. 

However, some programs encourage or direct unethical and criminal behaviors. "Malign foreign talent recruitment" programs include any foreign-state-sponsored attempt to unethically or unlawfully acquire U.S. scientific-funded research or technology through foreign government-run or funded recruitment programs that target scientists, engineers, academics, researchers, and entrepreneurs of all nationalities working or educated in the United States. 

If you suspect you have been contacted by or become associated with a malign foreign talent program, contact MIT Research Compliance

Impact on Researchers and MIT

Association with a malign foreign talent program can lead to ineligibility to receive federal funding for your research. Currently there is no due process to challenge such a determination or a limit to the time interval over which it is imposed. Past associations may also be concerning to the U.S. government, and participation in some foreign talent recruitment programs has led to criminal investigation and/or loss of employment. Learn more about assessing and mitigating the risks posed by foreign talent programs. 

Recognizing Malign Foreign Talent Programs


Any country can run a talent program, though talent programs initiated by China, Russia, Iran and North Korea are of particular concern to the U.S. government.

Features of Malign Foreign Talent Programs

Distinguishing features of a malign foreign talent program include:

  • Compensation provided by the foreign state to the targeted individual in exchange for the individual transferring their knowledge and expertise to the foreign country. The compensation can take several forms, such as cash, research funding, honorific titles, career advancement opportunities, promised future compensation, or other types of remuneration or consideration.
  • Incentives to physically relocate to the foreign state. Of particular concern are those programs that allow for continued employment at U.S. research facilities or receipt of US federal research funds while concurrently receiving compensation from the foreign state.
  • Focus on individual researcher instead of project/subject matter
  • Remuneration (salary, stipend, research funding, etc.) significantly above “market” for expected activities
  • Foreign entity title for researcher implies greater connection than underlying facts
  • Foreign residency application encouraged or facilitated
  • Requires changing of researcher’s primary institute affiliation for purposes of journal citations
  • Fundamental research purpose unclear or undefined
  • Contracts that include language which creates conflicts of commitment and/or conflicts of interest for researchers
  • Requirements to attribute awards, patents, and projects to the foreign institution, even if conducted under U.S. funding
  • Requirements to recruit or train other talent recruitment plan members, circumventing merit-based processes
  • Requirements to replicate or transfer U.S.-funded work in another country

Slides 17-19 of the Office of Science Technology and Policy presentation “Enhancing the Security and Integrity of America’s Research Enterprise” provide examples and explanations of problematic contractual clauses and behavioral practices. If something appears to be too good to be true, you should question it.