The U.S. is sending mixed signals on Chinese student visas, and Beijing appears to be taking advantage.
For months, U.S. intelligence agencies have been urging top American universities to closely monitor students and scholars from research institutions that are affiliated with a Chinese government whose interests are often adversarial to those of the United States.
More than 340,000 Chinese students — the largest international student population in the United States – studied here last year. According to one State Department official, many live in a “bubble” of Chinese Communist Party propaganda and misinformation.
“The Chinese intelligence services strategically use every tool at their disposal — including state-owned businesses, students, researchers and ostensibly private companies — to systematically steal information and intellectual property,” FBI Director Christopher Wray said in April.
Yet even as U.S. officials talk up the twin threats of academic espionage and intellectual property theft, an infinitesimal 0.0001 percent of Chinese students’ visa applications were denied over these concerns, according to Marie Royce, assistant secretary of state for educational and cultural affairs. The number of Chinese student visa application refusals has declined each of the last four years, and admissions have swelled four-fold.
While dueling with Beijing on trade and currency issues, President Donald Trump has declared, somewhat incongruously: “We want to have Chinese students come and use our great schools, our great universities. They have been great students and tremendous assets.”
Lawmakers from both parties say it’s time to get serious.
“We have to wake this country up to what China is doing,” Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., told the Brookings Institution last month.
Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., agrees, saying the proliferation of Chinese student visas is a better deal for Beijing than for the U.S. “We should not be naïve about the threat. Too many universities have become too reliant on Chinese students and Chinese money,” Cotton said at a Center for Immigration Studies forum last week.
Republicans have introduced legislation that would deny visas to Chinese researchers affiliated with Chinese military institutions.
“In welcoming such large numbers of Chinese nationals as students, the United States imperils its own technological edge over China,” writes Daniel Samet,a foreign-affairs researcher in Washington. “Chinese nationals receive world-class instruction here, in the hard sciences and other fields, and then return home.”
As federal prosecutors charge Chinese Communist Party operatives and Chinese researchers with stealing proprietary information, intelligence agencies report that Chinese students are doing the same. Thus, it’s appropriate to weigh the relative benefits of the $15 billion that Chinese students reportedly bring into the U.S. economy with the hundreds of billions of dollars that U.S. companies lose to Chinese intellectual property theft each year.
“In light of these revelations, is it a good idea to allow Chinese students unfettered access to American university laboratories?” Samet asks. His question isn’t merely academic, and the answer is glaringly obvious. The best minds in American immigration policy and higher education need to get on the same page to safeguard the prosperity and security of this country.