National security experts call on Congress to keep STEM talent in the US

US Capitol Building

ARLINGTON, VA – Nearly 50 senior national security officials — two NDIA executives among them — are calling on Congress to add key provisions to a combined bill for better recruiting and retention of international STEM talent, the National Defense Industrial Association announces.

The May 9 letter asks that advanced STEM and technical degree holders be exempt from green-card caps to ensure the United States has the science and engineering talent it needs to compete with China and other technology advancing nations. It is among recommendations to House and Senate leaders and members of the Bipartisan Innovation Act Conference Committee, charged with reconciling the House’s America COMPETES Act and the Senate’s U.S. Innovation and Competition Act.

In the letter, the signers said the committee has “a critical opportunity to tackle the self-inflicted drag that immigration bottlenecks impose on American competitiveness.” It adds that China has doubled its higher-education budget in less than a decade and its universities are rapidly climbing in global rankings.

“While the United States began this century with a comfortable lead, China now has double the annual U.S. STEM master’s output and will hit double the number of U.S. STEM PhDs within the next three years — and its growth, in both quantity and quality, shows no signs of slowing down,” the letter stated. Exempting foreign students will ensure that this vital talent stays in the United States, it stated.

Among the signatories are David Norquist, a former deputy defense secretary who is now NDIA’s president and CEO, and Mark Lewis, former acting deputy undersecretary of defense for research and engineering who is executive director of NDIA’s Emerging Technologies Institute. They join cabinet officials, former members of Congress and senior appointees who served in national security. 

That more than 85% of foreign students want to stay in the United States after they get their degrees “helps fuel our entire science and technology enterprise,” Lewis said. “Foreign talent is essential to our system. This isn’t new. Think of the physicists who worked on the Manhattan Project, many exiles from Europe; Theodore von Karman, one of the greatest aerodynamicists of the 20th century and the father of Air Force science and technology, was a refugee from Hungary.”

Lewis said the United States must be careful in not allowing foreign actors to steal sensitive technology and intellectual property, but that should be done with smart funding decisions and prosecution for bad behavior. He further noted that the United States is still the country of choice for international students who wish to study in a country other than their own. “If that ever changes, if the best and the brightest from around the world stop coming to our shores,” he said. “That’s when we will need to worry.”

The complete letter is available here.

About NDIA

The National Defense Industrial Association (NDIA) is America's leading defense industry association promoting national security. NDIA provides a legal and ethical forum for the exchange of information between industry and government on national security issues. NDIA and its members foster the development of the most innovative and superior equipment, training, and support for warfighters and first responders through its divisions, local chapters, affiliated associations, and events. For more information, visit