Supporters of expanding the H-1B visa program frequently exclaim, “It makes no sense to train foreign students in our universities but then send them home after graduation, to work for our competitors.” President Obama has said this numerous times.
The claim is not true to begin with. Foreign STEM students can work in the U.S. for 2.5 years under the OPT program, which the Obama people are well aware of, since they are trying to extend that 2.5 years to 6.
But there is more to it than that, because giving the foreign students green cards and thus later enabling their naturalization doesn’t mean that they’ll stay here. On the contrary, they may indeed “go back home to work for our competitors” — taking with them U.S. industrial or government secrets that they’ve acquired in the U.S. in the years since graduation.
Professor Rongxing Li of Ohio State University is now suspected by the FBI of doing exactly that. A naturalized citizen originally from China, Li suddenly resigned his OSU position and returned to China, whereabouts unknown, according to reports. Though I would suggest some skepticism about the accuracy of these early reports, things look pretty grim at this point.
Several times a year, cases of alleged espionage by Chinese foreign students and immigrants hit the news, and in many instances, the accused have eventually pleaded guilty. But in spite of the many such news articles sent to me by readers of this blog, I usually don’t discuss them, a rare exception being a post I made in May.
However, this case is different, because Dr. Li can legitimately be described as in the “best and brightest” category. He held a prestigious endowed chair at OSU; he was editor-in-chief of a prominent academic journal; he was a fellow (a major honor) of a national research society; and most importantly for the present context, has been selected to head a large project for NASA.
If it turns out that Li has indeed been up to no good, his case will be an excellent example of the folly of the “Don’t send them home to work for our competitors” rallying cry by the pro-H-1B crowd.
It should also be mentioned that most of Li’s research coathors, presumably large made up of his graduate students at OSU, appear to be from China.