On May 29, 2020, Donald Trump issued a presidential proclamation that will make it more difficult for graduate students and researchers from China to study, live and/or work in the United States.
According to the 2019 Open Doors Report on International Educational Exchange, in the 2018-19 academic year, there were 369,548 students enrolled in undergraduate, graduate, non-degree, and optional practical training (OPT) programs from China. The National Science and Engineering Board data indicate that of those enrolled, 84,480 were in graduate-level science and engineering programs.
The Presidential Proclamation concerning students from China
The latest presidential proclamation aims to bar the entry or issuance of “F” or “J” visa status to Chinese students in graduate-level programs who are or have been associated with the government of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and entities involved with the PRC’s “military-civil fusion strategy,” defined in the proclamation as the “actions by or at the behest of the PRC to acquire and divert foreign technologies, specifically critical and emerging technologies, to incorporate into and advance the PRC’s military capabilities.”
The proclamation applies to students in graduate-level programs but does not specify whether restrictions will apply to post-graduates seeking to work under the Optional Practical Training Program (OPT) as well.
The most consequential portion of the proclamation calls on the State Department to consider revoking previously issued visas within the category. The State Department uses its discretionary power to revoke visas in cases where eligibility is called into question, and the affected individual is required to reapply. The proclamation allows for the State Department to issue widespread revocation notices. Students outside of the U.S. would be barred from reentry until they receive their new visas.
Students whose entry visa is suspended while they are in the U.S. will not be affected as long as they maintain their student status. While visa revocation can be used as a basis to initiate removal proceedings, this rarely happens because it can be challenged in court.
Guidance has not yet been issued for how the State Department will implement the new restrictions. But once visa processing resumes for people applying from outside of the U.S. and if the presidential proclamations stand, consular officers will most likely deny applications that meet the criteria laid out in the proclamation at the time of the interview. Consular officers may also send cases that may be questionable but not clearly deniable for interagency clearance.
The likely outcome of this new presidential proclamation will be a significant increase in denials and more processing delays as the interagency clearance system becomes clogged with more cases. Further delays in processing could prevent students from starting or resuming an academic program.
The broad language of the proclamation will unnecessarily restrict access to the U.S. for students who might otherwise be cleared under a longstanding procedure called the “MANTIS” clearance process, which determines whether a student is part of any programs on the Technology Alert List. If an immigration officer has reason to believe or knows that an individual’s purpose of entry is to export technology or sensitive information, they may render the person ineligible for a visa.
While the proclamation may hamper the PRC’s ability to access some technology, they will undoubtedly have other sources. The proclamation will harm the U.S. knowledge economy and stifle its talent pool. As the U.S. blocks its number one source of international students, both American universities and the United States will lose out on the valuable scientific and financial contributions Chinese students make.