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 Recruitment Programs

Guidelines issued by the federal government define malign foreign talent recruitment programs, as well as foreign talent recruitment programs generally. 

Sponsoring Country or Academic Institution

Programs sponsored by or based in government-identified countries of concern (China, Russia, Iran, or North Korea) are presumed to be malign. However, a malign foreign talent recruitment program can be based in any country.

Features of Malign Foreign Talent Recruitment Programs

A malign foreign talent recruitment program does at least one of the following: 

  • Requires unauthorized transfer of IP, materials, data products or other nonpublic information to a foreign government or entity
  • Requires recruitment of trainees or researchers to enroll in the program
  • Requires individual to establish lab or company, or accept a faculty position or other appointment, in the foreign country
  • Prevents individual from terminating the talent program contract or agreement except in extraordinary circumstances
  • Limits individual's capacity to carry out a research and development award, or requires individual to duplicate federal research and development award
  • Requires individual to apply for funding from the foreign government with the sponsoring foreign organization as the recipient
  • Requires individual to omit acknowledgment of MIT or the federal research agency sponsoring the research and development award
  • Requires individual to omit the talent program from federal or MIT disclosures
  • Requires individual to maintain conflict of interest contrary to federal awards

Other Warning Signs

  • 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
  • Requirements to recruit or train other talent recruitment plan members, circumventing merit-based processes

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.