A recent Government Accountability Office (GAO) report stated that while the Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) efforts to address technology transfer risks at universities are underway, there is more the agency can do to improve the related data. 


The Federal law enforcement agency keeps tabs on foreign graduate students who may pose a greater risk of transferring U.S. technology to adversaries – like Chinese nationals who study STEM, the 61-page report said.


Due to these students’ access to sensitive research data, GAO believes it essential for ICE to reassess its current database and update it to account for new technology transfer risks and incomplete statistics. 


The research arm of Congress found that the agency’s current student and scholar database contains figures on the number of graduate students from countries of concern for technology transfer, “such as the People’s Republic of China” 


The report continued, “Graduate students studying in a science, technology, engineering, and math field have also been identified as more likely to be involved in sensitive research.”


According to ICE’s exchange student database, one-third of foreign graduate students studying STEM at U.S. universities from 2016 to 2020 were from China. 


However, the report said that ICE has not established milestones to complete a required assessment of whether it needs to modify its database to collect additional data related to some risk factors. Information related to students’ employment in the U.S. – which may indicate whether they have access to technology – is incomplete. 


“Completing the assessment and improving student employment data could strengthen U.S. government efforts to identify and assess technology transfer risk,” GAO said. 


The government watchdog made two recommendations to the ICE director: establish milestones for a required assessment and improve and update foreign students’ records related to factors that may indicate the risk of technology transfer.

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Cate Burgan
Cate Burgan
Cate Burgan is a MeriTalk Senior Technology Reporter covering the intersection of government and technology.