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US: Chinese graduate visa ban has “overly broad criteria”

A Trump administration presidential proclamation that bans thousands of Chinese graduate students from entering the country contains “overly broad criteria” and does not assess students based on the individual risk they pose, according to a report from The National Foundation for American Policy

NFAP's report said the proclamation has resulted in the State Department revoking many existing visas and denying other visas. Photo: Pexels

Every 1,000 PhD students blocked in a year costs an estimated $210 billion in the value of patents produced over 10 years

Under the presidential proclamation, which has been continued by the Biden administration, graduates and researchers with links to China’s ‘military-civil fusion strategy’ are banned from entering the US. 

“The policy might deal a significant blow to innovation and scientific research in America”

According to the report, the proclamation has resulted in the US state department revoking many existing visas and denying others. After the resumption of consular activities in China, US universities have reported denials of J-1 visas for Chinese scholars and new F-1 visas for graduate students in science and engineering.

Research by the Center for Security and Emerging Technology at Georgetown University has found that at least 3,000-5,000 Chinese graduate students a year could be prevented from entering US graduate programs each year.

Analysis by the NFAP found that every 1,000 PhD students blocked in a year from US universities costs an estimated $210 billion in the expected value of patents produced at universities over 10 years and nearly $1bn in lost tuition over a decade. 

“International students play an essential role preserving America’s position as a centre of scientific and technological innovation,” the report said. 

“For international students to continue playing that role, it is necessary for the US to maintain reasonable visa policies for international students and to make it easier for students to work after graduation, including preserving STEM OPT and improved policies on H-1B visas, per-country limits and employment-based green cards. 

“In the long term, continuing a US visa policy that blocks many Chinese graduate students from attending US universities might deal a significant blow to innovation and scientific research in America.”

NFAP’s report explored how international students account for large numbers of enrolments in science and engineering programs. 

It found that the number of full-time international students enrolled in graduate-level electrical engineering at US universities dropped 19.5% between 2015 and 2019. 

“The number of full-time international students enrolled in graduate-level computer and information sciences at US universities declined 9.5% between 2016 and 2019,” the report said.  

“This decline in international graduate students was before the new restrictions imposed on Chinese students and the impact of Covid-19. A continuation of this trend would present serious issues for US employers and universities.”

The NFAP’s report said that the proclamation contains overly broad criteria and is blocking visas for Chinese graduate students based on the universities they attended in China, not based on the individual risk of the students.

However, Sarah Spreitzer, director, government relations at the American Council on Education, told The PIE News that the US state department has been trying to implement the policy as narrowly as possible. 

“When the presidential proclamation was first introduced, it really only impacted existing visas because there weren’t new visas being issued during the Covid-19 crisis,” she said.  

“So we had a briefing with the state department when the presidential proclamation first came out about how they were going to be implementing it. 

“The state department, I think, has been taking it very seriously and they are trying to implement it as narrowly as possible, so at that time, we had heard around 1,000 visas were actually revoked.” 

“I worry that the bigger issue is the messaging that it sends”

Spreitzer said that there have been issues around communication where some students saw their visa being revoked and immediately thought it was because of the presidential proclamation. 

“But in the state department’s view, it’s been very narrowly applied. We had another briefing recently from the state department in response to the letter that we had sent earlier this year that asked how it was going to be implemented for visa applications,” she added.  

According to Spreitzer, the state department believes less than 2% of applications have been refused under this presidential proclamation.

“So they are trying to take very targeted action on a national security concern. We are very closely monitoring it to make sure that it’s not being broadly applied. I worry that the bigger issue is the messaging that it sends,” she said. 

The importance of positive messaging to students was stressed by Dawn Whitehead, vice president, Office of Global Citizenship for Campus, Community and Careers, at AAC&U.

Her organisation collaborated on a white paper on how to advance global stability and US national security through peaceful exchange. 

There were a number of us who thought it was really important to make sure that as we entered a new administration that we re-engage with the world and regardless of political affiliation, people-to-people exchanges are absolutely critical. 

“This paper is an argument about how we’re in a time of tremendous global challenge and we must have global cooperation, including individual exchange. 

“So we’re looking at continuing opportunities where students are able to interact with each other – international students coming to the US, US students leaving the US and interacting with others and finding ways to make sure that students have global experiences in the US,” she said.

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