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 acquiring American technology with potential military uses. . The students argue that it is applied too broadly and blatantly accuse what they say is that they are spies.
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“The whole thing is bullshit,” said Wang. “What do we students have to do with the military?” Students join companies and individuals whose plans have been hampered by US-Chinese tensions over technology and security, Beijing’s military build-up, the origins of the coronavirus, human rights, and conflicting claims in the South China Sea and other areas.
The policy blocks visas for people who are affiliated with the ruling Communist Party’s military wing, the People’s Liberation Army, or universities deemed part of military modernization efforts by Washington.
US officials say they believe thousands of Chinese students and researchers participate 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 to develop Chinese military technology.
“Joint research institutions, academia and private firms are being exploited to build the PLA’s future 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.
According to Shanghai online news outlet The Paper, Chinese officials in July appealed to US Secretary of State Wendy Sherman to lift the visa ban.
“The policy is necessary to protect US national security interests,” the US embassy in Beijing said in a statement. It said the policy is a response to “certain abuses of the visa process” and is “narrowly targeted.”
According to the embassy, over 85,000 visas for Chinese students have been approved in the past four months.
“The numbers clearly show that the United States is prepared to issue visas to all who qualify – including Chinese students and scholars,” it said.
Separately, a group of 177 Stanford University professors sent an open letter this month calling on the US Justice Department to end the China Initiative, another Trump-era program that investigates researchers in the United States. Signers of the letter say it has raised concerns about racial profiling and discouraged scholars from living in or visiting the country.
According to US government statistics, China is the largest source of foreign students in the United States. The number fell 20% in 2020 compared to the previous year, but was nearly double that of second-ranked India at 380,000.
An engineer at a government aircraft manufacturer said he was turned down for a visa to travel with his wife, a visiting scholar studying pediatric cancer in California.
The engineer, who will only give his surname, Huang, has bachelor’s and bachelor’s degrees from the Harbin Institute of Technology in China’s northeast. It is one of seven schools Chinese news reports say are linked to visa rejection 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’s the difference between this and racism?”
Huang said his wife’s fellowship was two to three years old, but she would cut it down while “sacrificing her career” to avoid being away from her two children for too long.
“When one country fights with another, it has a huge impact on individuals,” Huang said.
Rejection letters received by several students cited Trump’s order but gave no details of the decision. However, some students said they were turned down soon after being asked which university they went to.
Finance student Wang said he obtained the visa, but the US embassy later called and said it had been revoked.
Wang graduated from the Beijing Institute of Technology, another university associated with visa denials due to its links with the Ministry of Industry. Others include Beijing Aerospace University, Nanjing University of Science and Technology, Nanjing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics, Harbin Engineering University and Northwestern Polytechnical University.
The graduates of Beijing Postal and Telecommunications University also say they have been rejected.
Last year five Chinese scientists at universities in California and Indiana were accused of lying about possible military connections on visa applications. Those charges were dropped in July when the Justice Department said an FBI report indicated that such crimes often had nothing to do with technology theft.
The Chinese government complained in August that three students who had visas were denied entry into the United States at Houston airport after military training photos were found in their phones.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said Beijing “strongly condemned and rejected” the policy and urged the US government to make changes.
A group that it says represents more than 2,000 students and scholars has announced plans for a trial asking the court to lift or narrow the restrictions.
At Washington University in St. Louis, “a handful of student visas” were affected, according to Kurt Dirks, vice chancellor for international affairs.
Dirk said in an email that students can start the semester online or wait until next year.
“Should they continue to face challenges, the university will work with them so that they can complete their program online,” Dirk said.
Monica Ma, 23, said she was turned down for a US visa to complete her master’s degree in information management at Carnegie Mellon University.
The graduate of Beijing Postal and Telecommunications University said that after spending a year working on his degree in Australia, he needed to attend classes in person at Carnegie Mellon in Pittsburgh because they are no longer taught online.
Ma said he had a job offer from an internet company that required him to complete his degree. She has postponed her attendance for classes until next year, hoping she can get a visa by then.
“I can’t change it with my own efforts. This is the saddest part,” Ma said.
Li Quani, an electrical engineering student from the southern city of Guiyang, said he was accepted by Columbia University but failed to obtain a visa. Li graduated from Beijing Postal and Telecommunications University.
Carnegie Mellon and Columbia did not respond to emailed questions.
Lee has moved to Hong Kong and said he is happy there.
“I’m not going even if the rules change,” Lee said. “The United States rejected me, and I’m not leaving.”