US Looks to Block Chinese Grad Students’ and Researchers’ Visas
US Looks to Block Chinese Grad Students’ and Researchers’ Visas

US Looks to Block Chinese Grad Students’ and Researchers’ Visas

Administration officials and lawmakers say the move is to shore up national security threats, but university professors argue such cancellations represent targeted discrimination.

Ashley Yeager
Ashley Yeager

Ashley started at The Scientist in 2018. Before joining the staff, she worked as a freelance editor and writer, a writer at the Simons Foundation, and a web producer at...

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May 28, 2020


Republican lawmakers and officials in President Donald Trump’s administration have been discussing bans on visas for Chinese students and researchers in STEM fields and those with ties to China’s military schools this week, The New York Times reports. On Tuesday (May 26), Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Trump talked about plans to cancel visas for Chinese nationals who are already conducting research in the US and who have ties to universities affiliated with China’s military—a policy that would affect some 3,000 students, according to the Times

The goal is to limit foreign involvement in research, as investigations into ties between US and Chinese researchers have led a number of scientists in recent years to lose their jobs or to be arrested.

“The Chinese Communist Party has long used American universities to conduct espionage on the United States. What’s worse is that their efforts exploit gaps in current law. It’s time for that to end,” US Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR) said yesterday (May 27) in a statement. With Senator Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), Cotton introduced the SECURE CAMPUS Act, which would ban visas for Chinese nationals to some to the US and complete graduate programs or postdocs in STEM fields.

Trump’s administration is also considering restrictions on the Optional Practical Training program, which lets international students in the US on student visas for one year after they graduate to work in the field they studied, The Chronicle of Higher Education reports. China’s Thousand Talents initiative, which has provided funding for American researchers, is also a program government officials are urging universities to keep a close eye on or even cut ties with, the Times reports. 

See “NIH Raises Concerns About Foreign Influence in Biomedical Research” and “Prominent Harvard Chemist Arrested For Concealing Ties to China

University officials note that banning Chinese nationals who participate in research could slow scientific progress and result in untoward economic consequences. The 360,000 Chinese nationals who come to the US for graduate studies or postdocs contribute about $14 billion to academic institutions, largely from tuition and other fees, Reuters reports. 

The fallout could also spread beyond economics. Last year, Jenny Lee, a professor of educational policy and practice at the University of Arizona, told The Scientist that with such a political climate, “we’re seeing discrimination targeted specifically at our Chinese students and scholars.”

Frank Wu, a law professor who is the incoming president of Queens College, reiterated the idea. “Targeting only some potential professors, scholars, students and visitors from China is a lower level of stereotyping than banning all,” he tells the Times, in reference to the administration’s expected visa cancellations. “But it is still selective, based on national origin.”