At Least 500 Chinese Students Have U.S. Visa Applications Rejected Under Trump-Era Rule

At least 500 Chinese students have had their U.S. visa applications rejected under a rule issued by then-President Donald Trump, the Chinese government says, according to the Associated Press.

The policy was intended to keep Beijing from obtaining U.S. technology with possible military uses. It blocks visas for people affiliated with the ruling Communist Party's military wing, the People's Liberation Army (PLA) or universities that Washington considers to be part of military modernization efforts, the AP said.

But students affected by the ban argue that the application is too broad and that the policy is accusing them of being spies.

The U.S. Embassy in Beijing defended the policy, saying it's necessary to "protect U.S. national security interests" and is "narrowly targeted." The embassy said that more than 85,000 visas for Chinese students have been approved over the past four months, according to the AP.

"The numbers show clearly that the United States stands ready to issue visas to all those who are qualified—including Chinese students and scholars," the embassy said.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Chinese Student
More than 500 Chinese students have had their student visas to study in the United States rejected under a Trump-era rule, the Chinese government said. Above, Li Boxiong studies at his home in Beijing on July 29, 2020, after postponing plans to study in the U.S. Wang Zhao/AFP via Getty Images

After a semester online, Wang Ziwei looked forward to meeting classmates who are returning to campus at Washington University in St. Louis. But the 23-year-old finance student said the U.S. revoked his student visa on security grounds.

"The whole thing is nonsense," Wang said. "What do we finance students have to do with the military?"

The students join companies and individuals whose plans have been disrupted by U.S.-Chinese tension over technology and security, Beijing's military buildup, the origins of the coronavirus, human rights and conflicting claims to the South China Sea and other territories.

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 all being exploited to build the PLA's future military systems—often without their knowledge or consent," the State Department said in a 2020 report.

President Joe Biden has given no indication of what he might do.

Separately, a group of 177 Stanford University professors sent an open letter this month asking the U.S. Justice Department to end the China Initiative, another Trump-era program that investigates researchers in the United States. The letter signers say it has raised concerns about racial profiling and discouraged scholars from staying in or coming to the country.

China is the biggest source of foreign students in the United States, according to U.S. government data. The number fell 20 percent in 2020 from the previous year but at 380,000 was nearly double that of second-ranked India.

Rejection letters received by several students cited Trump's order but gave no details of the decision. However, some students said they received rejections immediately after being asked which university they attended.

Wang, the finance student, said he obtained a visa, but the U.S. Embassy called later and said it was revoked.

Wang graduated from the Beijing Institute of Technology, another university associated with visa rejections due to its connection with the industry ministry. Others include Beijing Aerospace University, Nanjing University of Science and Technology, Nanjing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics, Harbin Engineering University and Northwestern Polytechnical University.

Graduates of the Beijing University of Posts and Telecommunications also say they have been rejected.

Five Chinese scientists at universities in California and Indiana were charged last year with lying about possible military connections on visa applications. Those charges were dropped in July after the Justice Department said an FBI report indicated such offenses often had no connection to technology theft.

The Chinese government complained in August that three students who had visas were refused entry into the United States at the Houston airport after military training photos were found in their phones.

Beijing "strongly deplores and rejects" the policy and appealed to the U.S. government to make changes, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said.

A group that says it represents more than 2,000 students and scholars has announced plans for a lawsuit asking a court to throw out 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.

Students can start the semester online or wait until next year, Dirks said in an email.

"Should they continue to face challenges, the university will work with them so they can complete their program online," Dirks said.

Monica Ma, 23, said she was turned down for a U.S. visa to complete a master's degree in information management at Carnegie Mellon University.

The graduate of the Beijing University of Posts and Telecommunications said after spending a year in Australia working on her degree, she needs to attend classes in person at Carnegie Mellon in Pittsburgh because they no longer are taught online.

Ma said she has a job offer from an internet company that requires her to complete her degree. She has postponed her attendance for classes until next year in hopes she can obtain a visa by then.

"I cannot change it through my efforts. That's the saddest part," Ma said.

Monica Ma
Monica Ma is among at least 500 students the Chinese government says have been rejected under a Trump-era policy aimed at blocking Beijing from obtaining U.S. technology with possible military uses. Above, Ma at the coast of Qinhuangdao in northern China's Hebei province on April 3. Monica Ma via AP