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US move to tighten visa policy targets STEM students

Chinese students attend a graduation ceremony at Columbia University in 2015. Photo: Xinhua

The Trump government is planning to shorten the validity of visas issued to some Chinese citizens, striking a sharp contrast to a visa policy adopted in 2014 by the Obama administration that extended the validity of short-term business and tourist visas for Chinese nationals to 10 years from one year, the Associated Press reported on Wednesday.

The AP quoted a US official as saying that American embassies and consulates have received an instruction which indicates that Chinese graduate students studying in the fields of robotics, aviation and high-technology manufacturing will obtain a US visa that is valid for only one year.

Promoting the development of high-technology industries such as robotics and aviation is underscored in the Made in China 2025 strategy, which aims to help China join the ranks of the world's strong manufacturing powers by 2025.

China remained the biggest source of international students studying in the United States in 2017.

The 2017 Open Doors Report on International Education Exchange, which was released last year by the Institute of International Education, showed that the number of Chinese students enrolled in American universities in the 2016-2017 academic year increased by 6.8 percent year-on-year to 350,755 students, claiming the top spot among countries sending students to the United States for the eighth year in a row.

Some experts say that the visa policy change would cause damage to the American economy and would partly reduce Chinese students' interest in applying for study at US universities.

According to statistics from the US Commerce Department, Chinese students studying in US universities contributed $12.55 billion to the US economy in 2016.

The instruction also stipulates that Chinese citizens applying for a US visa must obtain special permits from several US agencies if they serve as researchers or managers at entities which are under scrutiny by the US Commerce Department, according to the AP report.

At a regular press conference on Wednesday, Hua Chunying, spokeswoman of China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, called on the United States not to reverse the trend of international communication. "Personnel exchange is the foundation of the China-US cooperation, and the simplification of visa measures is reciprocal and in the interest of the two countries' people," said Hua.

The restrictions imposed on Chinese citizens seeking US visa is considered as continuation of the US national security strategy unveiled in December last year by Trump, in which the president vowed to put limits on visa issuance in order to prevent the economic thefts by non-traditional information collectors. In the national security strategy, the first after he took power, Trump labeled China as a "strategic competitor", which he has blamed for economic invasion. The national security strategy also mentioned the possibility of limiting foreign students studying science, technology, engineering and mathematics from getting US visa.

The new visa policy will take effect on June 11.

In addition to closing the door to Chinese students, the United States has also set barriers for its scholars and experts who want to join the talent introduction projects launched by China, Russia, North Korea and Iran.

In early-May, the US House Committee on Armed Services, a standing committee of the US House of Representatives, passed an amendment which allows the US Defense Department to stop providing research funds and rewards to individuals if they take part in these talent recruitment schemes including China's Thousand Talents Plan.

US Representative Mike Gallagher, who proposed the amendment, has expressed worries over the role of foreign countries' talent introduction plans in promoting the transfer of technologies invented by the United States and in helping other countries gain America's intellectual properties, saying that the Thousand Talents Plan, which attracts foreign professionals and Chinese experts living abroad to come to China, would help the country become a global technology leader by 2049, posing a threat to America's technology supremacy.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation has warned that the Thousand Talents Plan as well as other similar measures would provide a space for economic espionages.

The moves by the United States come as its trade dispute with China intensifies. On May 29, Trump changed an earlier stance and said his country will impose 25 percent tariffs on $50 billion worth of Chinese goods, a capricious act that Beijing criticized for going against the spirit of the joint statement signed by the two countries more than 10 days ago in Washington.

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