New restrictions on visas for citizens of China are expected as soon as June 11, 2018, according to the Associated Press. These restrictions, the report states, would target students in high-tech fields such as robotics and aviation.
The changes would be part of the Trump Administration’s national security strategy to protect American’s intellectual property and prevent espionage. Reports of such changes have been in the air for several months. As early as December 2017, the Administration released the “National Security Strategy of the United States of America.” This report stated:
“The United States will review visa procedures to reduce economic theft by non-traditional intelligence collectors. We will consider restrictions on foreign STEM students from designated countries to ensure that intellectual property is not transferred to our competitors, while acknowledging the importance of recruiting the most advanced technical workforce to the United States.”
In line with these general principles, Chinese students in priority fields now may be limited to one-year visas and other Chinese citizens may require special clearances from various government agencies if they work for businesses that are on the Commerce Department’s “higher scrutiny” list.
The United States already restricts access to certain technologies through security clearances and export controls. For instance, individuals from “suspect” countries who work on technologies with potential military and security applications (“dual use technologies”) may have to be under the umbrella of an export license. Export licenses are governed by a complex body of regulations from the Commerce and State Departments and employer certifications regarding export licenses appear on certain immigration forms, including H and L visa petitions. The Administration may be considering broadening these regulations as they relate to China. In the meantime, visa applicants who work with dual use technologies are already subject to additional scrutiny, screenings, and delays through special administrative processing procedures known as Security Advisory Opinions (SAOs).
Universities are particularly concerned about how new restrictions may affect and, in some cases, even cripple collaborative projects that benefit from international cooperation with Chinese researchers. They also are concerned about how restrictions will affect their ability to attract promising Chinese students, particularly graduate students. While the United States has been a magnet for researchers and students, especially in technical fields, other options and other countries such as Canada appear poised to take advantage of any new restrictions.