Senators Thom Tillis (R-NC), Ted Cruz (R-TX), Kelly Loeffler (R-GA), and Marco Rubio (R-FL) have introduced a bill titled the Protecting America from Spies Act, which targets individuals who have committed or may in the future commit U.S. intellectual property theft. The legislation comes soon after reports of Chinese and Russian attempts to steal COVID-19 related IP and research in the race to a vaccine to end the pandemic. On July 22, the Department of State ordered the Chinese Consulate in Houston to close, citing evidence of “espionage and intellectual property theft.”
While the closing of the Houston consulate was “an important step,” Cruz said more needs to be done: “For too long China and our competitors have been using non-traditional forms of espionage against our country without any consequences,” he said in a statement.
The bill “would allow the Department of State to deny visas to individuals who have committed acts of espionage or intellectual property theft against the United States.”
Its language would provide broad discretion for denying admission to the United States. Specifically, visas could be denied:
[I]f a consular officer or the Secretary of Homeland Security knows, or has reasonable ground to believe, that the alien—
(i) engages, has engaged, or will engage in any activity—
(I) in violation of any law of the United States relating to espionage or sabotage; or
(II) that would violate any law of the United States relating to espionage or sabotage if the activity occurred in the United States.
Presently, individuals found to have committed IP theft are eligible to reapply for visas. The bill would ensure that any history of such activity would preclude entry into the United States.
According to a press release, the legislation would additionally:
- Makes spouses and children of aliens engaged in espionage or tech-transfer inadmissible if the activity making them inadmissible occurred within the past five years.
- Allow the State Department to waive these restrictions if necessary, such as to fulfill U.S. obligations under the UN Headquarters Agreement.
“The active espionage efforts of the Chinese Communist Party to steal intellectual property are unacceptable,” said Senator Tillis in the press release. “This legislation will punish foreign adversaries and deter additional efforts to undermine American leadership through intellectual property theft.”
Representative Vicky Hartzler (R-MO) filed the companion legislation in the House. She said:
It is past time to stop known spies from China coming back into our country. Current laws only allow individuals to be denied entry if the consular officer has knowledge of future espionage plans. Our country needs to be protected so known bad actors are not allowed to steal from us again.