This was confirmed in a Senate Judiciary hearing on June 6 by Edward J Ramotoski, deputy assistant secretary for visa services, Bureau of Consular Affairs, US Department of State when responding to a question on press reports suggesting such a measure.
“We have issued some additional screening instructions to US embassies and consulates to deal with certain individuals from China studying in certain sensitive fields,” Ramotoski established.
“When it comes to our investigative efforts, we do not focus on anybody because of their ethnicity or national origin”
While assuring these measures “don’t prohibit entry or restrict access”, when pressed he told the committee that: “in some cases, the visa – if approved – might be limited to one year, multiple-entry with the option to renew.”
The backdrop to this policy shift was laid bare in a Senate hearing, in which concerns shared by the FBI and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence about technical information and intellectual property being stolen by “foreign adversaries” were revealed. China was said to be at the top of that list of adversaries.
The hearing, ‘Student Visa Integrity: Protecting Educational Opportunity and National Security’, was originally titled ‘A Thousand Talents: China’s Campaign to Infiltrate and Exploit US Academia’ before being changed.
During the two-hour hearing, chair Senator Cornyn – a Republican from Texas – pointed out that China contributes 350,000 foreign students to the US, while Russia “has about 5,400”, and India, contributing the second largest source of foreign students, “is not an authoritarian country”.
He asked the panel to elaborate on why China was a prime concern.
Joseph G Morosco, national intelligence manager – Counterintelligence at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, responded: “our counter-intelligence concern with respect to China is not driven by race or ethnicity of the students that are in the United States, our counter-intelligence concern is driven by the fact that China has a publicly-stated policy goal of acquiring sensitive information in technology around the world, to include here in the US, and that they seek access and recruit global experts regardless of their nationality to meet their science and technology aims.”
Morosco referred to these aims as outlined in the Made in China 2025 national strategy as well as the Thousand Talents program.
Bill Priestap, assistant director, Counterintelligence Division at the FBI, added, “When it comes to our investigative efforts, we do not focus on anybody because of their ethnicity or national origin; what we focus on is activity.
“For some of the reasons Mr Morosco mentioned, a disproportionate number of what I refer to as our economic espionage cases happen to be on Chinese citizens.”
Priestap’s full statement, made prior to facing questions, is available online. He outlined risks and benefits of the US’s international education industry and said the FBI was keen to play a role “striking a responsible balance between openness and security in US higher education”.
Steps that are already being taken by institutions and national research laboratories to ensure security were also explored during the hearing.
“America’s higher education community is really the crown jewels of what we have to offer as Americans to the world”
The value of foreign students to the US was a point highlighted on a number of occasions during testimony from the first panel and a second panel which included Texas A&M University System’s chief research security officer and NAFSA’s Jill Welch, deputy executive director for public policy.
Cornyn himself, when introducing the hearing, noted, “Most students and visiting scholars come to US for legitimate reasons. They are here to… contribute their talents to [the US]. Indeed I’ve come to believe America’s higher education community is really the crown jewels of what we have to offer as Americans to the world.”
In her statement, NAFSA’s Welch underlined: “It’s exceedingly important that the majority of Chinese students and scholars understand that we are not talking about them today.
“It’s exceedingly important because there are many choices of where talented people can go, and our research programs in the United States, particularly at the graduate level, are incredibly dependent on this kind of talent in order to offer the spaces in our classrooms to American students as well.”