Jul 22, 2021 05:36 PM

Analysis: The Impact of U.S. Ban on Chinese Researchers on International Study Plans

New York University alumni celebrate graduation in Washington Square in New York on May 19. Photo: Liao Pan/China News Service, VCG
New York University alumni celebrate graduation in Washington Square in New York on May 19. Photo: Liao Pan/China News Service, VCG

The U.S. may be losing its luster for some Chinese students, as the Biden administration continues to impose Trump-era visa restrictions on science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) students.

More than 500 Chinese science and engineering graduate students were denied study visas by the U.S. on the grounds of Presidential Proclamation 10043 signed by President Trump in June last year, Chinese state-run media reported.

The proclamation bars the entry of Chinese postgraduate researchers if it’s judged that their research in the U.S. could be used to “to acquire and divert foreign technologies, specifically critical and emerging technologies, to incorporate into and advance the PRC's military capabilities.”

According to estimates from CSET, a policy research organization at Georgetown University's Walsh School of Foreign Service, around 3,000 to 5,000 Chinese applicants to STEM graduate programs could be denied visas each year because of the ban, representing 16% to 27% of Chinese students who pursue STEM graduate programs in the U.S.

The U.S. Embassy in Beijing told Caixin that “the ripple effects of this policy are minimal, affecting less than 2% of Chinese applicants” for student and exchange visas.

Li Lihong, who is currently pursuing a PhD in computer science at a U.S. university, was denied a visa by the U.S. Consulate in Guangzhou in June on the grounds of Presidential Proclamation 10043.

“We hope the proclamation will be cancelled because it is an unjust and unreasonable policy,” said Li. The ANB Scholars Without Borders Support Group, formed by about 30 Chinese students including Li, is launching a class action lawsuit against Presidential Proclamation 10043.

“If things cannot be resolved”, Li said, “I’ll have no choice but to take a break from school.”

Li Hong was pursuing his master's degree at the University of Southern California, specializing in quantum computing. Last September, his 5-year visa, received in 2018, was revoked due to Presidential Proclamation 10043.

“I was in a broken state of mind but thought I should wait. I thought maybe Biden will re-welcome us Chinese students if he wins the election,” said Li Hong.

Most of the students who were denied visas are hoping that the new U.S. President Joe Biden will adjust the policy.

But Li Hong says a substantial turnaround has not occurred. “The new administration has overturned many policies, yet there is almost no change in policy related to China.”

Growing popularity of alternatives

While the ban only affects a small proportion of Chinese international students, it is contributing to a less positive impression of the academic environment of the U.S., along with the high cost of tuition, strict grade requirements, the spread of the coronavirus, the tense Sino-US relationship, and concerns over racism.

The year-on-year growth in Chinese students studying in the U.S. has fallen from about 30% in the 2009-2010 academic year to 0.8% in the 2019-2020 academic year, according to a report released by the Center for China and Globalization (CCG).

One country looking to benefit from the U.S.’ changing image is the U.K., which has been rolling out favorable policies, including allowing more international students to enroll, extending graduate work visas, and chartering flights to pick up international students.

According to data from U.K. authorities, a record 25,810 Chinese students applied for undergraduate studies in the country in 2021, marking a 21% increase compared to 2020.

The percentage of Chinese international students choosing Australia (18.84%), Canada (16.19%), Japan (4.54%), Singapore (3.84%), and New Zealand (2.51%) for their studies last year also increased year-on-year, according to data collected by EIC Education.

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