Skip To Main Content
Professional headshotDr. Mark Barteau
Dr. Mark Barteau has been selected to lead a study on the impact of foreign talent programs. | Image: Texas A&M Engineering

Over the past century, the United States has gained tremendous benefits from the influx of international talent, with immigrants accounting for over one-third of the Nobel Prizes awarded to Americans. 

In the U.S., almost 50% of Ph.D.-level professionals in science, technology, engineering and math fields were born outside the country. Over 50% of engineering and computer sciences graduate students are international.

In recent years, however, the competition for international talent from allies and potential adversaries has increased substantially, including the establishment by foreign governments of talent programs that the U.S. considers “malign.”

The U.S. Department of Defense, in response to the Fiscal Year 2021 National Defense Authorization Act, has engaged the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine to conduct a study of international talent programs in the changing global environment.

Dr. Mark Barteau, professor in the Artie McFerrin Department of Chemical Engineering and the Department of Chemistry at Texas A&M University, has been selected to lead this study, which began in April.

The committee focuses on foreign talent programs and domestic incentive programs that seek to recruit and retain top scientific researchers. Much of the attention in recent years has been on the potential negative impacts and national security risks from other nations’ talent programs. However, the committee’s charge is broader, seeking to understand what mechanisms other nations use to attract and retain talent and recommending ways for the U.S. to compete more effectively for international talent while safeguarding national security. 

“This study is an opportunity to look at the scope of some of our international interactions, particularly to try to understand the extent to which some of these malign programs have impacted the United States,” Barteau said. 

A malign foreign talent recruitment program is any foreign-state-sponsored effort to 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, according to the U.S. Government. The CHIPS and Science Act of 2022 has further elaborated this definition and identified countries of concern.

“We’re helping to provide guidance and clarity about appropriate behavior and policies,” Barteau said. “The United States is an attractive place for people from all over the world to be educated, so I see an important part of our role as trying to clarify the ‘rules of the road’ and to understand their impacts. Science is an international activity with lots of collaborations across borders. It is essential to the community, including our faculty, to articulate what are appropriate collaborations and what are not.”  

One visible issue has been researchers having another laboratory in another country that may not have been disclosed properly.

“Texas A&M and other institutions have developed policies to spell out for our folks what they needed approval for or what they needed to disclose in terms of research and activities abroad and other labs they may have,” he said. “I think part of the uncertainty before has just been a lack of clarity about what was the appropriate behavior both from the side of universities and from federal agencies and unclear instructions from the beginning. I believe that the work of our committee can bring important clarity and guidance in a continuously changing environment.” 

Overall, the committee will recommend best practices by looking at both domestic and international programs to ensure that the U.S. maintains its scientific and technological leadership, particularly in national security and defense-related fields. By July 2024, the committee will publish a comprehensive report of its findings.

“International talent has contributed so much to this country and not just to the scientific enterprise, but to entrepreneurship and the economy,” Barteau said. “It is in our national interest to maintain a robust flow of international talent to the U.S. and to reduce policies and activities that discourage outstanding students and scholars who wish to come here, particularly in emerging fields.”

Drawing from his prior experience leading several other committees, Barteau said this study will be slightly different, having a less technical focus while maintaining an objective and non-political approach.