Following Joe Biden’s inauguration earlier this year, Chinese students once hoped that the newly-installed US president could soon annul Trump’s “discriminatory policies” against them. Photo: Xinhua

A year-long ban on Chinese students receiving US study visas due to Covid-19 ended in May, but many are still being rejected by US authorities because of their reputed ties to military-linked Chinese universities and institutes – a ban enacted by the previous Donald Trump administration and continued under Joe Biden.

These rejected students now refer to themselves as “victims of Proclamation 10043,” the executive order signed by Trump in May 2020 that suspended, on national security grounds, the entry of certain non-immigrant students and researchers from China, who would have otherwise obtained their higher degrees or conducted advanced researches in the US.

They generally major in science, technology, engineering and mathematics and have diplomas from or were previously enrolled in one of the eight Chinese universities blacklisted for their alleged ties with China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and its affiliated bodies.

The blacklisted institutions include Beijing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics, aka Beihang, Beijing University of Posts and Telecommunications, Beijing Institute of Technology, Harbin Institute of Technology, Harbin Engineering University, Northwestern Polytechnical University, Nanjing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics as well as Nanjing University of Science and Technology.

It is almost impossible for Chinese students denied visas to see a policy reversal and go to the US as planned, even with a new tenant in the White House. Photo: WeChat

Trump’s proclamation said, “The PRC (People’s Republic of China) authorities use some Chinese students, mostly post-graduate students and post-doctorate researchers, to operate as non-traditional collectors of intellectual property.

“Thus, students or researchers from the PRC studying or researching beyond the undergraduate level who are or have been associated with the PLA are at high risk of being exploited or coopted by the PRC authorities and provide particular cause for concern. 

“In light of the above, I have determined that the entry of certain nationals of the PRC seeking to enter the US pursuant to an F or J visa to study or conduct research in the US would be detrimental to the national interests.” 

The US embassy in Beijing and consulates in Shanghai, Guangzhou and Shenyang have all reportedly rejected applications since the resumption of visa services for Chinese students beginning in May.

China News Service and Caijing Magazine report that a growing number of Chinese students are being rejected in a seemingly expanded enforcement of Proclamation 10043. 

The reports said applicants from Chinese universities not blacklisted and with undergraduate degrees in literature, business and even art have also recently been turned away. US embassy and consulate interviewers have reportedly cited section 212(f) of the US Immigration and Nationality Act, which gives the US president and authorized persons carte blanche plenary powers to refuse entry to foreigners.

The Trump administration estimated in 2020 that the number of affected Chinese students could be around 5,000, a small fraction of the over 300,000 Chinese students enrolled in US universities in 2019. 

There have already been more than 500 such visa rejections between January and July, according to reports.

It is said that about 500 Chinese students have been denied visas in 2021 as of this month. Photo: WeChat

Those denied visas include graduates from renowned institutions like Shanghai Fudan University, Shanghai Jiaotong University, Tongji University and University of Electronic Science and Technology of China, according to the Caijing report. 

One Fudan graduate who originally planned to pursue his PhD in electronics in California told Asia Times that a US consulate immigration officer in Shanghai said he was sorry to reject the application and said the decision was a reflection of the prevailing climate between the two countries.

The student said he had hoped his visa could be granted now that there was a new president. Some of those rejected have sought to contact the Chinese Education Ministry and Beijing’s diplomats in the US, but so far with no result.

Beijing had earlier protested what it termed as Trump’s “malicious stigmatization” of Chinese students in the US when the proclamation first kicked in. Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said this month that the US must stop its “groundless repression” of Chinese students.

Students who form concern groups on WeChat and Weibo are now finding themselves increasingly snubbed by compatriots who say they should be more patriotic and should not have applied to study in China’s No. 1 adversary in the first place. 

American universities with large Chinese student bodies have petitioned the Biden administration to repeal the proclamation or at least make visa vetting more predictable. Many top US universities increasingly rely on foreign students, including from China, to pay full-fare tuition and thus keep their institutions financially afloat. 

In a letter to US State Secretary Antony Blinken, Cornell University prodded the government to narrow the blacklist of Chinese entities and raised concern that consular officials may interpret policies in “an uneven and unpredictable manner that is creating tremendous uncertainty and confusion for international students and their US universities.”

Beijing’s renewed criticism of the proclamation means a small ray of hope for affected Chinese students, but concrete action by the Chinese government is lacking. Photo: Xinhua

The letter described consular officials’ implementation of the previous administration’s guidance as “capricious, unclear and excessive.”

China Education Daily and Caijing reported that some Chinese students were considering filing a collective lawsuit to annul what they see as Trump’s “discriminatory policy” and order a reassessment of all related visa applications.

A petition website has been set up for affected students to muster their ranks, which they claim far exceeds Trump’s estimate that only 5,000 students would be affected. Another online survey is also seeking to gauge interest among affected students to pool money to sue the US government. 

Trump’s presidential proclamation also enables the federal government to cancel visas already issued to Chinese students. Those from China on student visas who have their visas canceled can remain in the US but once they leave they must apply for new visas to re-enter.

Only students already in the US who have their visas invalidated will likely qualify to file a legal case in US courts. 

Legal experts who have commented on the petition website say that related proceedings may take years to go through the courts and the federal government may appeal to contest any rulings to revoke the proclamation, meaning the complaint may need to go all the way to the Supreme Court to be resolved.

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