NAICU Washington Update

Senate Passes Research Bill Caught Up in China Debate

June 11, 2021

After weeks of negotiations, the Senate passed the U. S. Innovation and Competition Act (formerly the Endless Frontier Act) authorizing $250 billion for research across multiple government agencies to support cutting edge scientific research and innovation to keep the United States globally competitive. The bill also includes reauthorization of Title VI of the Higher Education Act on International Education. The undertone of the debate and bipartisan support for the final bill is to show that Congress can be tough on China.  

For colleges and universities, the bill balances a significant investment in federally funded research with restrictions to combat concerns about foreign influence in academia, whether from students, faculty or foreign entities. 

With regard to foreign students and faculty, the provisions affecting visa denials are much improved from versions proposed in the last Congress.  Under the new bill, the Secretary of State can only deny entry if an individual is trying to enter the U.S. to knowingly acquire sensitive U.S. data, technology, or to undermine our national security interests. A previous version of the bill would have allowed U.S. consulates to deny visa applications for individuals wanting to enter the U.S., including students and faculty, without explanation. Visas could have been denied if an individual was considered a “threat to the U.S. economy” by any definition, and the definition could change, depending on the Administration.

With regard to foreign entities, the bill tightens reporting requirements for colleges and universities by lowering the threshold for reporting foreign gifts under Section 117 of the Higher Education Act (HEA) from $250,000 to $50,000.  It also creates a new HEA Section 124 requiring institutions that receive $5 million or more in research funds to maintain a database of foreign gifts to institutions, programs, faculty and staff. 

Also of note are two conflicting amendments requiring the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) to review foreign gifts over $1 million for potential national security concerns. One provision in the approved bill requires the review, while another bans the review. Such a conflict would need to be resolved before enactment. 

The reauthorization of Title VI International Education from the Higher Education Act reinforces the nation’s expanding needs for deep foreign language and international business expertise. With a five-year authorization of $208 million, the amendments provide students with new and innovative opportunities to obtain the international skills in growing demand across a wide range of professional and technical fields. 

While the Senate had this as a top priority for passage this spring, it is unclear the path of consideration this bill or similar bills will have in the House. 

Contact: Stephanie Giesecke
Contact: Karin Johns

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