As visa processing ramps back up, tens of thousands of students in China hope to get their travel documents approved before the new semester begins.
But one group of students may not be included — those who did their undergraduate study at universities that “implement or support” China’s military and national-security strategy.
Some 3,000 to 5,000 students
, largely graduate students in STEM programs, may be affected by the policy put in place a year ago by the Trump administration.
Now, they are pushing back, lobbying to have the policy revoked and considering legal action. They say that the measure, formally known as Presidential Proclamation 10043
, discriminates against students because of school choices made years ago, not because of any proof that the students themselves pose a national-security threat. Students who receive funding from the China Scholarship Council also could be singled out.
I spoke with several of the students who have organized to oppose the proclamation. As an example of the arbitrary nature of the enforcement, they shared the story of a doctoral student’s recent visa interview. It appeared to go smoothly, with questions about the student’s major, computer science, and source of funding; the consular official even reminded the student of the requirement to take a Covid-19 test before he flew to the U.S. But then at the last minute, the officer asked where the student earned his bachelor’s degree. When the student named one of the blacklisted universities — although the official list has never been made public — his application was suddenly rejected.
“There is a presumption of guilt based on where we go to school,” said Dennis Hu, one of the organizers. “As long as we study in those universities, we are guilty.”
Hu himself has been affected by the policy. A Ph.D. student at private university in New England, he returned to China to renew his visa last January and found himself stranded there, first by the pandemic and now by Proclamation 10043. “I don’t want to quit and give up my program,” he told me.
Opponents of the measure had hoped that President Biden would repeal the presidential order when he took office. That it remains in place is a reminder of the bipartisan suspicion of China, and not just in Washington — 55 percent of Americans favor restrictions on Chinese students
It also underscores the extent to which higher education continues to be caught up in geopolitical tensions. I’ll have more next week on how universities try to navigate these ever-roiling seas.
More than 40 higher-ed groups wrote
to the U.S. Department of State expressing concern about the use of Proclamation 10043 in visa denials. “Now that consulates are starting to reopen in China, and international students are beginning to see visa processing resume, we have heard troubling reports of this proclamation being applied very broadly,” they wrote.
The associations ask State Department officials for a briefing on the “implications” of the order, but they stop short of calling for its revocation — to the frustration of the Chinese students. The students have been conducting a letter-writing campaign to American universities asking them to lobby the federal government to have the proclamation rescinded and to offer legal help to students whose visas are rejected. The affected students are also raising money to retain a lawyer to mount a legal challenge.
While the students directly affected make up just a small portion of the more than 372,000 Chinese students studying in the U.S., Hu told me that he worries about the ripple effects of the policy, potentially marginalizing Chinese students and scholars and feeding into anti-Asian discrimination. Already, some students have given up on their dreams of studying in America — and still more might never apply.
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