FDA Puts in Place New Hiring Protocols for Foreign Scientists

Published: Aug 15, 2017

FDA Puts in Place New Hiring Protocols for Foreign Scientists August 14, 2017
By Josh Baxt, BioSpace.com Breaking News Staff

The Trump Administration’s overall immigration policy appears to be now hitting the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). According to a STAT report the FDA has begun new hiring procedures that will make it more difficult for foreign scientists to find employment with the agency.

The agency directed hiring managers not to make job offers, including fellowship and contractor jobs, to any person who hasn’t lived in the U.S. for at least three out of the last five years. Briefing materials and documents were shared with STAT, which reported on the topic yesterday.

The FDA indicates that the changes to the hiring procedures are related to the background checks all government employees are required to undergo in order to receive an ID card. It’s not immediately clear if the changes are being implemented across government agencies. If so, the National Institutes of Health (NIH), for example, will likely be hit hard, because every year it hosts thousands of non-citizen scientists from 100 or more countries. Numerous U.S. government agencies host visiting scientists, including the Department of Agriculture, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The changes to the procedures are expected to take effect October 1.

An FDA spokeswoman stated that the agency was following guidance from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which oversees the ID card. “The agency is committed to accurately reflect the DHS policy and will continue to evaluate its implementation plans, and make adjustments as appropriate,” the spokeswoman told STAT.

The ID card in question is the Personal Identify Verification (PIV) card. It is required for almost all U.S. government employees. To receive the PIV, staffers take part in a fairly standard background check. But as part of the Trump Administration’s new policies toward immigration and foreign nationals, the background checks can’t be completed until the individual has lived in the U.S. for three of the last five years.

FDA documents stated that, “It is strongly suggested that hiring managers inquire of prospective hires how long they have resided in the U.S. prior to extending an offer.” This is a new policy in the government, as well as at the FDA. Since 2008, the government’s policy did not separate non-citizens into two groups, those who have lived in the country at least three years and ones who haven’t; there was no indication of criteria required three-out-of-five-years residency. It did, however, indicate that for non-U.S. citizens who hadn’t lived in the U.S. for three years could delay the background check and utilize a different ID card.

For example, several U.S. agencies, including the NIH, allowed non-citizen hires to use a “Restricted Local Access” card instead of the PIV card. That way, they could be employed if they didn’t have access to government data systems. That will no longer be an option with the FDA after October 1.

STAT reports that the FDA employs more than 100 visiting scientists and associates annually, and the NIH hosts more than 2,000. The EPA and the USDA and other research agencies also have visiting scientist programs.

On August 2, President Trump publicly supported legislation that limits the level of legal immigration into the U.S. by setting a skills-based immigration system. Proposed by Republican Senators David Perdue and Tom Cotton. Cotton’s office told CNN that the bill—which is unlikely to be passed—would cut legal immigration to the U.S. by 50 percent.

CNN says “The proposal would then establish a grading system for new immigrants where the prospective green card holders would be judged on their median salary, advanced degrees, ability to speak English, skilled needed by the economy and whether you are able to afford your own health care.”

How those would affect PhD and MD-level scientists at the FDA is a bit of a mystery unless they can’t afford health insurance. But the current policies affecting the FDA are likely procedural changes instigated by DHS rather than changes to immigration law that would have to go through Congress.

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