Trump Era Policy Still Blocks Chinese Students From US Universities

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Chinese students at University of Southern California
USC (University of Southern California) president C. L. Max Nikias bows before images of Chinese murder victims Ying Wu and Ming Qu before eulogizing the slain engineering students during a memorial service in the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles on Apr. 18, 2012.

Students from China have found themselves at a loss as they continue to be refused visas to the U.S for their university studies. For these students, they are left grappling with a legacy policy of former President Donald Trump that remains in place under President Joe Biden.

The Associated Press published a report Monday that highlights some of the stories of the Chinese students who remain unable to enter or return to the U.S. after having their visas refused. Several of the students interviewed expressed bewilderment and frustration at being denied entry over security concerns, particularly if they had studied at Chinese universities that are viewed as close to the military.

This policy began to take place during the Trump administration as competition with China began to escalate and concerns about Chinese influence or espionage operations were rife. In September 2020, it was reported that the State Department revoked more than 1,000 visas for Chinese students and researchers who were deemed a security risk. Chinese students continue to make up the largest number of foreign students attending universities in the U.S., though this number has dropped precipitously.  

On top of this, the FBI also began a wide-ranging "China Initiative" to combat alleged economic espionage alongside inquiries into Confucius Institutes at U.S. universities that are promoted by China’s Ministry of Education.

Some of the students said that U.S. universities expressed bewilderment at being labeled spies. They rejected the notion that they are interested in anything but studying, and expressed frustration at how the visa bans have disrupted their professional lives.

The singling out of Chinese students and researchers has also prompted accusations that they were being racially profiled. 

FBI Director Christopher Wray sparked backlash when he warned that Chinese academics could pose a risk to national security and the failure of several espionage cases brought by agents in recent years has added to profiling concerns. These allegations are likely heightened by other acts of anti-Asian racism that escalated through the COVID-19 pandemic and the use of racially pejorative rhetoric of former President Donald Trump.

Biden has vexed many with the slowness of his finalization of any overarching policy towards China as it approaches its eighth-month mark. While the Biden administration continues its review, it has been clear that it considers competition with China to be its highest foreign policy priority.

In pursuit of this agenda, the Biden administration has left in place a number of Trump administration policies like trade tariffs and condemnation of China’s human rights abuses. Last week, Biden spoke to China’s President Xi Jinping over the phone where they discussed ways to avoid conflict, but without any statements of intent to resolve the areas of disagreement between the two powers.

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