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International Relationships & Research Activities

Frequently Asked Questions

Q1: What are the specific concerns regarding “foreign influence” in the academic setting?

The FBI and other federal government agencies have expressed concern that some foreign actors, particularly foreign state adversaries, are seeking to acquire U.S. academic research and information illicitly or illegitimately.  Further, the NIH identified three areas of concern:  diversion of intellectual property; peer reviewers inappropriately sharing confidential information on grant applications; and failure of researchers at NIH-funded U.S. institutions to disclose substantial resources from other organizations, including foreign governments.

Q2: Do these issues apply only to NIH Grants?

No. The Department of Defense, the National Science Foundation, and the Department of Energy have also issued statements regarding this issue. Given the current U.S. Government focus on this issue, we anticipate similar guidance, statements, or requirements will be forthcoming from other funding agencies.

Q3: What are “foreign talent recruitment programs” and why is there concern about them?

The federal government is concerned that foreign talent recruitment programs may be used by foreign governments to acquire, legally and illegally, U.S. government-funded scientific research in order to dominate high technology sectors currently led by U.S. entities. As described by the FBI, these programs target individuals who are working in technological fields of interest to the foreign government, offering competitive salaries, state-of-the-art research facilities and/or honorific titles in an effort to encourage the transfer of ideas and intellectual property.

Q4: What is the federal government doing to address concerns about foreign talent recruitment programs?

At present, there is no generally applicable U.S. legal or regulatory prohibition on participation in a foreign recruitment program. However, the Department of Energy (DOE) recently issued an internal directive that prohibits DOE employees and contractor employees from participating in certain foreign talent recruitment programs to ensure protection of U.S. competitive and national security interests as well as DOE program objectives.  Similarly, NSF announced a policy prohibiting NSF personnel and Intergovernmental Personnel Act (IPA) detailees to NSF from participating in foreign government talent recruitment programs due to risk concerns.

Q5: What steps must I take in response to these concerns?

Refer to the Best Practices for Disclosing International Relationships & Research Activities and the Agency Specific Requirements for International Relationships & Research Activities. Make your sponsors aware of your collaborations and interactions with foreign entities that support or contribute to your research program; federal agencies are expecting a thorough account of touchpoints between your research program and any foreign entity.  For an explanation of the various requirements imposed by federal sponsor’s, please check the International Relationships & Research Activities webpage maintained by the Office of Sponsored Programs.

 Q6: Do I need to end my international collaborations and/or stop welcoming international students and visitors into my lab?

W&M  believes that global engagement, both by bringing international scholars to campus and encouraging our scholars to collaborate internationally, enriches the student experience and brings diverse knowledge and experiences that enhance our scholarship. However, consistent with federal agency guidance you should provide information to your research sponsors about all international collaborations and ensure that all international Research Visitors are screened through the Export Controls Officer, confirming that there are no restrictions upon hosting such visitors.   That said, there remains considerable concern with foreign talent programs. If you are involved in or are invited to participate in such a program, you should obtain guidance from the Vice Provost for Research and Graduate/Professional Studies and the Vice Provost for International  Affairs as well as from the Office of Sponsored Programs.

 Q7: Do I need to make disclosures related to the work of my graduate students if they are foreign nationals?

In most cases, there is no reason to disclose participation of international students or postdocs on sponsored research, especially if all such work will be performed in the U.S. However, classified and export controlled projects will be subject to foreign national restrictions. It may be possible to employ certain foreign nationals on controlled projects after appropriate licenses and/or exemptions are secured. Please contact the Export Controls Officer for more information on such cases. There are no foreign national restrictions on “Fundamental Research” projects. However, there may be cases where working with a student or postdoc might be considered a “foreign component,” if that student or postdoc is performing effort in a foreign country. NIH defines a foreign component as “any significant scientific element or segment of a project outside of the United States, either by the recipient or by a researcher employed by a foreign organization, whether or not grant funds are expended."

Q8: I have a visitor in my lab who is supported by his/her home foreign institution. S/he is not funded by any of my federal grants. Do I need to account for this visitor in proposals or progress reports?  If so, how?

We do not have specific guidance from all sponsors on this topic, however, per NIH guidelines, this person’s work on the project should be documented as follows:

As “Other Support” because the externally funded individual is a “resource available in direct support of [your] research endeavors.” The NIH recently clarified that “all research resources including, but not limited to, foreign financial support, research or laboratory personnel, lab space, scientific materials, … must be reported.”
As a “Participant” in the progress report if the person worked on a project for more than a month in any given year (see 6.4 Section D – Participants). Additionally, the person’s “primary affiliation” is determined by where the work was done for the project: if the individual is affiliated with a foreign organization but worked on the award solely in the U.S., the “primary affiliation” is not foreign; if work was performed while outside of the U.S., the primary affiliation should be noted as foreign.
As a “Foreign Component” if the individual performed part of the work while in your W&M lab, but also made a significant contribution to the project a from his/her home institution, or any other foreign location (e.g. collecting data at a foreign site, running samples on instrumentation there, and/or will be a co-author on publications arising from the grant).