After a semester online, Wang Ziwei was eager to meet his classmates who are returning to the Washington University campus in St. Louis. But the 23-year-old finance student said the United States revoked his student visa for security reasons.
Wang is among at least 500 students who the Chinese government says were rejected under a policy issued by then-President Donald Trump to prevent Beijing from obtaining American technology with possible military uses. Students argue that it is being applied too widely and rant against what they say is a charge of espionage.
“This is all nonsense,” Wang said. “What do we fund students have to do with the military? “
Students join companies and individuals whose plans have been disrupted by U.S.-China tensions over technology and security, Beijing’s military build-up, the origins of the coronavirus, human rights, and conflicting claims over the South China Sea and other territories.
The policy blocks visas for those affiliated with the military wing of the ruling Communist Party, the People’s Liberation Army, or universities seen by Washington as part of military modernization efforts.
U.S. officials say they believe thousands of Chinese students and researchers are participating in programs that encourage them to transfer medical, computer and other sensitive information to China.
Washington cites Beijing’s strategy of “civil-military fusion,” which it says treats private companies and universities as assets for developing Chinese military technology.
“Joint research institutes, universities, and private companies are all being exploited to build future PLA military systems – often without their knowledge or consent,” the State Department said in a 2020 report.
Trump’s successor Joe Biden has given no indication of what he might do.
Chinese officials have called on U.S. Under Secretary of State Wendy Sherman to drop visa restrictions during her visit in July, according to The Paper, an online outlet from Shanghai.
The policy is necessary to “protect the national security interests of the United States,” the United States Embassy in Beijing said in a statement. She said the policy is a response to “some abuse of the visa process” and is “narrowly targeted”.
More than 85,000 Chinese student visas have been approved in the past four months, according to the embassy.
“The numbers clearly show that the United States is ready to issue visas to anyone who is qualified, including Chinese students and academics,” he said.
China is the largest source of foreign students to the United States, according to U.S. government data. The number fell 20% in 2020 from the previous year, but at 380,000 it was almost double that of India, second.
An engineer at a state-owned aircraft manufacturer said he was denied a visa to accompany his wife, a visiting scholar in California who studies pediatric cancer.
The engineer, who would give only his last name, Huang, graduated from the Harbin Institute of Technology in northeast China. It is one of seven schools, according to Chinese reports, associated with visa denials because they are affiliated with the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology.
“I was insulted,” Huang said. “That I graduated from this school means I’m a spy?” What is the difference between this and racism?
Huang said his wife’s scholarship is two to three years, but she will reduce that to one, “sacrificing her career” to avoid being away from their two children for too long.
“It’s a pretty big impact on individuals when one country is fighting another,” Huang said.
Letters of rejection received by several students cited Trump’s order but gave no details of the decision. However, some students said they received refusals immediately after being asked which university they were attending.
Wang, the finance student, said he got a visa, but the US Embassy called later and said he was revoked.
Wang is a graduate of the Beijing Institute of Technology, another university associated with visa denials due to its ties to the Ministry of Industry. Others include Beijing Aerospace University, Nanjing University of Science and Technology, Nanjing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics, Harbin University of Engineering, and Polytechnic University. of the Northwest.
Graduates from Beijing Post and Telecommunications University also said they were rejected.
Five Chinese scientists from universities in California and Indiana were accused last year of lying about possible military connections on visa applications. Those charges were dropped in July after the Justice Department said an FBI report said the offenses were often unrelated to the theft of technology.
The Chinese government complained in August that three visa students were denied entry to the United States at the Houston airport after photos of military training were found in their phones.
Beijing “strongly deplores and rejects” the policy and has called on the US government to make changes, Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said.
A group that says it represents more than 2,000 students and academics has announced plans for a lawsuit asking a court to overturn or narrow the restrictions.
At Washington University in St. Louis, a “handful of student visas” have been affected, according to Kurt Dirks, vice chancellor for international affairs.
Students can start the semester online or wait until next year, Dirks said in an email.
“If they continue to face challenges, the university will work with them so they can complete their program online,” Dirks said.
Monica Ma, 23, said she was denied a U.S. visa to complete a master’s degree in information management at Carnegie Mellon University.
The Beijing Post and Telecommunications University graduate said that after spending a year in Australia preparing for her degree, she had to take in-person classes at Carnegie Mellon in Pittsburgh as they are no longer taught online.
Ma said she had a job offer from an internet company that required her to graduate. She postponed attending classes until next year in hopes of getting a visa by then.
“I cannot change it by my efforts. That’s the saddest part, ”Ma said.
Li Quanyi, an electrical engineering student from the southern city of Guiyang, said he was accepted by Columbia University but did not get a visa. Li graduated from Beijing Post and Telecommunications University.
Carnegie Mellon and Columbia did not respond to questions sent by email.
Li moved to Hong Kong and said he was happy there.
“I’m not going, even if the rule changes,” Li said. “The United States rejected me, and I’m not going.”