US Lawmakers Propose Total Ban On STEM Visas For Chinese Students

As the White House prepares to eject Chinese graduate students with ties to the PLA, three US lawmakers are taking things a step further - proposing a bill which would ban mainland Chinese students from studying STEM subjects in the United States.

Chinese and other international students wave flags at 2018 Columbia University commencement ceremony.

Two senators and one House member said on Wednesday that the Secure Campus Act would bar Chinese nationals from obtaining visas for graduate or postgraduate studies in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Students from Taiwan and Hong Kong would be exempt, according to SCMP.

"The Chinese Communist Party has long used American universities to conduct espionage on the United States," said Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AK), one of the bill's sponsors, adding "What’s worse is that their efforts exploit gaps in current law. It’s time for that to end."

"The Secure Campus Act will protect our national security and maintain the integrity of the American research enterprise."

The proposed legislation comes as diplomatic relations have fractured between the world’s two largest economies. The fissures started to show during a trade war that has been rumbling on for almost two years and have only widened amid accusations about the handling of the Covid-19 disease outbreak , and the treatment of ethnic minority groups in China.

Hong Kong is the latest flashpoint after Beijing drew up a national security law that Washington says tramples on the city’s mini-constitution. The US threatened retaliation over the move. -SCMP

The bill will also tackle China's efforts to recruit talent overseas through their Thousand Talents Program, an operation launched in 2008 by the CCP which seeks out international experts in scientific research, innovation and entrepreneurship. It proposes that participants in China's recruitment of foreigners be made to register under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA), and would prohibit Chinese nationals and those participating in China-sponsored programs from receiving federal grants or working on federally funded R&D in STEM fields.

Any university, research institute or laboratory receiving federal funding would be required to attest that they are not knowingly employing participants in China's recruitment programs - a list of which the US Secretary of State would publish.

US law enforcement and educational agencies have raised red flags about undisclosed ties between federally funded researchers and foreign governments. A crackdown has included indictments and dismissals.

In January, Charles Lieber, 60, chairman of the chemistry and chemical biology department at Harvard University, was arrested and charged for lying about his involvement in the Thousand Talents Programme. -SCMP

Meanwhile, earlier this month a professor at the University of Arkansas who received millions of dollars in research grants, including $500,000 from NASA, was arrested and charged with one count of wire fraud.

According to the FBI, Ang failed to disclose that he was getting paid by a Chinese university and Chinese companies in violation of university policy. He is accused of making false statements while failing to disclose his extensive ties to China as a member of the "Thousand Talents Scholars" program.

63-year-old Simon Saw-Teong Ang is the director of the school's High Density Electronics Center, which received funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF), Department of Energy (DOE), Department of Defense (DOD) and NASA. Since 2013, Ang has been the primary investigator or co-investigator on US government-funded grants totaling over $5 million, according to the Washington Examiner.

In November, the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations chaired by Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) released a 109-page bipartisan report which concluded that foreign nations "seek to exploit America’s openness to advance their own national interests," the most ambitious of which "has been China," according to the Examiner. According to the report, Chinese academics involved in their so-called 'Thousand Talents' program have been exploiting access to US research labs.

Backlash

According to SCMP, members of the US scientific community see the US as unfairly targeting Chinese colleagues, and that the campaigns will discourage talented individuals from pursuing studies at US universities.

"While we must be vigilant to safeguard research, we must also ensure that the US remains a desirable and welcoming destination for researchers from around the world," wrote members of 60 groups - including the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the Federation of American Scientists, in a 2019 letter to science policy officials.

The US lawmakers' proposal follows China's March decision to revoke the press credentials for US journalists from three major US newspapers - declaring five US media outlets to be foreign government proxies. In February, the Trump administration labeled five Chinese state media groups as "foreign missions" (via SCMP).