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FIU institutes a 'pause' in hiring Cuban, Chinese researchers as law goes into effect

The hiring freeze is due to a Florida law passed earlier this year meant to combat the infiltration of the higher education system by "countries of concern" — including Cuba, Venezuela, China, Russia, Syria, Iran and North Korea.

Florida International University has instituted an immediate “pause” in hiring individuals from several countries, including China, Cuba and Venezuela, according to an internal email obtained by WLRN.

The freeze is due to a law passed earlier this year meant to combat “countries of concern” infiltrating the higher education system. As defined by state law, those countries include: Cuba, Venezuela, China, Russia, Syria, Iran and North Korea.

Depending on how long the hiring freeze lasts, it could lead to vacancies in science programs that recruit primarily Chinese grad students — or at FIU’s Cuban Research Institute, which works closely with Cuban dissidents.

On Dec. 19, Andres Gil, FIU’s Vice President of Research and the dean of the University Graduate School sent an email to FIU deans, department chairs, graduate program directors and human resources liaisons. In it, he stressed that because of the new state law and regulations, schools should immediately “pause” any job offers or recruitment efforts that involve individuals from the “countries of concern.”

“Any offers that have been made and any active recruiting should pause until we have a good handle on the process so it can be appropriately communicated to candidates and specifically referenced in our offer letters,” reads the letter.

The new law functions as a blanket ban on hiring staff or researchers who live in the six listed countries. The only way around it would be to obtain “waivers” on a case-by-case basis to move forward with the hiring or onboarding process.

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Gil wrote that the university is not the “final approver” of any candidate in the process. That would be left up to the state Board of Governors, in which a majority of members are appointed by the Gov. DeSantis, and FIU’s Board of Trustees, a majority of which are appointed by Gov. DeSantis or his direct appointees. The exact timeline for when both boards finalize a new process is unclear.

“The process for each candidate will take several months, and we cannot guarantee any employment or position for individuals from countries of concern,” he wrote.

The freeze includes any process of onboarding "non-paid Research Scholars" from the listed countries. Many prominent Cuban and Venezuelan dissidents in particular have conducted research at the university through this process, after fleeing their countries due to government oppression.

Gil suggested that the hiring pause could create HR headaches, and potentially spill into the coming academic year, which begins next August.

“Graduate program directors and Deans will be receiving language on what to communicate regarding this process to newly admitted and/or potential graduate students interested in obtaining a graduate assistantship,” Gil wrote in his letter. “Human Resources and Academic Affairs will be communicating to the Deans and HR Liaisons on the impact for those employees currently in the recruitment/onboarding process.”

A request for further comment or clarification from Gil and the university was not immediately returned.

Elsewhere, faculty at the University of Florida in Gainesville have begun sounding the alarm about the impact of the state law.

Over 300 University of Florida faculty members have signed a petition stating that the pause at their university “could negatively influence the long-term development, reputation, and leadership of UF.”

“Restricting or even preventing the hiring of graduate assistants, postdocs, and visiting scholars from these countries would have a devastating impact on our graduate programs and research activities. Furthermore, it could negatively influence the long-term development, reputation, and leadership of UF,” reads the petition.

The U.S. Department of State already conducts background research into foreigners who come to the U.S. to work or do research, but the new law creates an additional state-level vetting and verification process.

The bill, SB 846, was passed unanimously in the Florida House and Florida Senate before being signed into law by Gov. Ron DeSantis.

The stated purpose of the law is to limit infiltration into the university system by foreign nations that are hostile to the United States.

Copyright 2023 WLRN 91.3 FM. To see more, visit WLRN 91.3 FM.

Daniel Rivero is a reporter and producer for WLRN, covering Latino and criminal justice issues. Before joining the team, he was an investigative reporter and producer on the television series "The Naked Truth," and a digital reporter for Fusion.
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