Although the COVID-19 outbreak has upended study abroad plans for thousands of Chinese students, Liu Jiekun was determined to make his work. The 24-year-old from the central city of Wuhan traded his acceptance at a Chinese university for a chance at a master’s degree in electrical engineering at the University of Southern California.
But there was one problem: Proclamation 10043, which suspends entry to some Chinese students pursuing graduate degrees or research programs in order to minimize the risk of them acquiring “sensitive United States technologies and intellectual property.”
Many students like Liu believed that a new U.S. president would step in to help, turning the page to a new chapter in their lives. But five months after Joe Biden took office, the proclamation signed by his predecessor is still in effect.
“I was so happy, because it seemed that my American dream was just around the corner,” Liu told Sixth Tone. “We kept refreshing the election websites. It was the first time I had paid so much attention to the national affairs of a country on the other side of the Pacific Ocean.”
Now a group of students in China have come together, calling on the U.S. government to revoke the proclamation. Last month, the group launched a website to gather support, push back against the “unfair prohibition,” and eventually file a lawsuit in the U.S.
Li Bo, one of the group’s founders, said the campaign — which now has 1,400 members — is the byproduct of many Chinese students’ bitter proclamation-related experiences. During his application process for a Ph.D. at the University of California in San Diego last year, he said professors at various schools hesitated to offer research positions due to potential visa complications related to the proclamation.
“It’s unjust to bar students from entering the U.S. just because they’ve attended certain schools,” Li told Sixth Tone. “We can’t understand how the United States, which boasts about its democracy and freedom, could take such a measure.”
Last May, former U.S. President Donald Trump signed a proclamation banning “certain students and researchers” from China at American academic institutions. While undergraduate students are unaffected by the proclamation, individuals who have studied, worked, or received any assistance from entities affiliated with the country’s “military-civil fusion strategy” will be barred from pursuing graduate and research programs in the U.S.
While the proclamation did not list the schools or majors targeted, 11 universities are said to be associated with the military-civil fusion strategy, according to an analysis report by the Center for Security and Emerging Technology, a think tank affiliated with Georgetown University’s Walsh School of Foreign Service. The institutions include Beijing University of Posts and Telecommunications as well as the Harbin Institute of Technology, where Li studied.
According to the report, the proclamation so far may have affected 3,000 to 5,000 Chinese students, representing between 16% and 27% of the 19,000 Chinese nationals who enroll as graduate students in science, technology, engineering, and mathematical disciplines in the U.S. each year.
There are currently 372,532 Chinese students in the U.S., nearly 37% of them enrolled at graduate schools, according to the latest annual data from the Open Doors Report on International Educational Exchange. Chinese students were the largest group of international students in the 2019-2020 academic year, contributing around $16 billion to the U.S. economy.
A graduate from New York University poses for a photo in New York, May 19, 2021. Liao Pan/CNS/People Visual
Charles Kuck, an immigration lawyer advising the students on their lawsuit against the proclamation, said the prohibition was harmful to both Chinese students and the universities recruiting them. He added that Chinese students have been making contributions to science in the United States for decades.
“The proclamation has long-term negative consequences and will result in the ultimate detriment of the United States,” Kuck told Sixth Tone.
According to Li, many Chinese students in the U.S. have also raised concerns over whether the proclamation might affect their visa status. Many have forgone trips home to China for fear that they might not be able to return to the U.S. later.
A spokesperson for the U.S. Embassy in China didn’t specifically address Sixth Tone’s questions about the proclamation’s impact on students’ visa applications. However, the spokesperson said there are still visa restrictions imposed under a section of the Immigration and Nationality Act, though the law does not affect the vast majority of the students.
In late April, the U.S. relaxed some entry restrictions on international students under the National Interest Exception scheme, allowing Chinese students with valid F-1 or M-1 visas to travel to the U.S. for the fall semester.
But many students caught in the crossfire between the two countries are unsure what to expect, and are demanding more clarifications on Proclamation 10043. Li, who has yet to appear for a visa interview, said he feels “crushed in the middle of a political game.”
Meanwhile, for some, their plans of getting a degree from a U.S. university have already been met with disappointment. Liu’s visa application was rejected last week, and he’s angry that the proclamation paints many Chinese students as “spies or threats to national security.”
“Three years’ worth of effort, only for my American dream to end before it could begin,” Liu said.
Editor: Bibek Bhandari.
(Header image: A visa applicant outside the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, 2011. Legal Evening News/People Visual)