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Report: US introduces restrictions for some Chinese visas

Short on time? Here are the highlights:

  • The US government is moving to limit the period of validity for visas issued to some Chinese students and researchers
  • The measure will apply to students or researchers in specified technology fields
  • The new policy does not alter the process or terms by which the US grants visas to Chinese students, but appears designed to limit the amount of time that some Chinese visa-holders will be able to stay in the United State

Amid growing political and trade tensions, the US State Department said this week that the administration will introduce new limits affecting some visa applicants from China.

Full details have yet to be released but the Associated Press is reporting that US embassies have been instructed to limit the term of visas issued to Chinese students or researchers in specific fields of study, including robotics, aviation, and high-tech manufacturing. The new practice is due to take effect on 11 June, and will mark a departure from the current approach of issuing visas for the maximum allowable term of up to five years.

Speaking on background to Bloomberg, a State Department official said that the measures “would in some cases cut short the amount of time that a Chinese citizen could stay in the US and would be decided on a case-by-case basis…the maximum validity for Chinese student visas would remain the same, five years, but that consular officials have the authority to put an earlier expiration date on some visas.”

The move appears to follow on from the government’s concerns around protecting US intellectual property, as set out in an updated national security strategy from December 2017: “Every year, competitors such as China steal US intellectual property valued at hundreds of billions of dollars…The United States will review visa procedures to reduce economic theft by non-traditional intelligence collectors. We will consider restrictions on foreign STEM students from designated countries to ensure that intellectual property is not transferred to our competitors, while acknowledging the importance of recruiting the most advanced technical workforce to the United States.”

It may also reflect the current climate of trade relations between these two massive economies, with the US actively considering the introduction of new tariffs on up to US$50 billion in Chinese exports.

Either way, this week’s announcement is only the latest in a series of policy decisions by the US administration that bear on international student mobility to the United States. Responding to earlier news reports of potential visa restrictions on Chinese students NAFSA Executive Director Esther Brimmer said in March, “With international students contributing US$36.9 billion to the US economy last year and supporting more than 450,000 jobs, any drop in enrolment would have severe consequences. Chinese students alone contribute US$12 billion, alongside countless other benefits, so even a modest reduction in Chinese enrolment would be devastating. Because Chinese students and scholars contribute so much to our science and innovation, virtually every community in America would feel the impact if Chinese student visas were restricted in any way. International students and scholars create jobs, drive research, enrich our classrooms, strengthen national security and are America’s best ambassadors and allies. Students should never be used as bargaining chips, and we cannot afford to lose this valuable resource.”

China is by far the leading sending market for international students in the US. As of March 2018, there were just over 377,000 Chinese students with an active US study visa, representing nearly one in three (31.3%) foreign students in the United States this year.

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