The Biden Administration is planning a campaign to bring Russian scientists and engineers to the United States in order to further weaken Russia’s scientific and technological infrastructure.
It also intends to help Russian physicists working at the CERN nuclear laboratory stay in the country rather than return home when their normal visas expire.
President Biden sent a $33 billion supplemental spending bill for the Ukraine war to Congress on April 28th, according to Science|Business, which first reported the plan on April 29th and confirmed it. Technically qualified Russians with advanced degrees in a variety of fields would be allowed to enter the US without the usual visa requirement that they have a job lined up in advance, according to legislation included in the bill. They’d have to pass a background check in the United States.
And for Russians working at CERN, the world’s premier high-energy physics lab near Geneva, the United States, in consultation with other G7 countries, plans to assist them in continuing their careers there if they choose—including the possibility of being hired directly by US scientific organizations. It was not immediately clear whether similar provisions would apply to Russians who work at other major Western laboratories.
The White House’s first major step toward including scientific and technical talent in the war effort is the launch of this initiative. Operation Paperclip, a program run by the United States from 1945 to 1959 that brought more than 1,600 Nazi-era German scientists and engineers to the United States, was likened to this program by one official. Among them were Wernher von Braun, a well-known rocket engineer, and Kurt Debus, who would go on to become the first director of the Kennedy Space Center. A similar German talent program in Russia fueled the Cold War.
A number of Russian scientists and engineers are already believed to have left Russia for the Biden Administration, but it’s not yet clear how many more will join the effort. Scientists in the United States are currently working on programmed designs. Semiconductors, space technology, cybersecurity, advanced manufacturing and computing, nuclear engineering, artificial intelligence, and missile propulsion are just a few of the many disciplines that make up the field.
As part of its effort to weaken Russia’s military capability, the United States has focused its scientific and technical efforts on prohibiting the export of high-tech equipment and know-how. At a press conference on April 25, US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said, “We want to see Russia weakened to the point where it can’t do the kinds of things that it has done in invading Ukraine.”
It’s the first time the White House has mentioned scientific talent in relation to a new Russian visa program, however. Since the beginning of the war, more than a few European governments have ordered their educational institutions and research institutions to cease formal scientific collaboration with Russian organizations since the beginning of the war, starting with Germany, followed by Sweden, France, Denmark, and others. There are plans to help Russian researchers with travel grants and other means after the European Commission halted payments to Russian organizations in its Horizon Europe R & D program.
However, in Washington, since the war began on February 24th, there has been a spirited debate within the administration about what, if anything, should be done about Russian scientists and engineers.
The White House and State Department have so far refused to comment on the increasing number of European scientific initiatives. As far as interacting with Russian colleagues goes, the Administration made no recommendations to American universities or scientific organizations in the media or otherwise. One of these universities has announced that it is ending its 11-year partnership with Russia’s tech hub, Skolkovo, located near Moscow. MIT’s announcement was the first of its kind.
Scientific research in Russia relies heavily on international collaboration. From 2017 to 2019, 24 percent of Russian research papers were written with the help of foreign collaborators, mainly from the United States and Germany. Research in materials, artificial intelligence, and energy, as well as in the country’s large technical workforce, suggests that Russian science is the strongest in the world. However, since the 2014 Crimean War, state science budgets have shrunk rapidly.
It is part of the $33 billion in supplemental Ukraine war spending (on top of the $14 billion already allocated) that the Biden Administration has requested from Congress, which is in addition to the $14 billion that has already been appropriated. In the short term, the majority of the funds will be used to support the Ukrainian economy, supply weapons, and provide financial assistance to US industries that have been harmed by the conflict.
It was not mentioned in any of the White House press briefings on the budget bill because of the sensitive nature of the initiative. In the past year, other proposed immigration-law changes have been tangled up in Republican-Democrat squabbling on Capitol Hill, but the Russian provision, which is part of the Ukraine war effort, is expected to garner bipartisan support.