Chinese students face scrutiny in US visa application process
Applications denied for those whose parents work in security, anti-graft organs
Published: May 17, 2021 09:40 PM
Some Chinese students celebrate graduation in New York. Photo: IC

Some Chinese students celebrate graduation in New York. Photo: IC

The US Embassy and consulates in China resumed visa appointments for students earlier this month, but restrictions on those with high-tech backgrounds remain in place. Such restrictions are even extended to students whose parents work in the security, immigration and anti-graft government departments, the Global Times has found. 

A letter provided by Gewai Education, a Beijing-based agency providing consultation services for students applying to US schools, to the Global Times on Monday shows the US Consular Officer informed a student of his visa refusal. Visas for senior Chinese officials employed by four intelligence and law enforcement departments, as well as their spouses and children, have been suspended.

Applications by Chinese nationals for certain types of visas were suspended for officials ranked deputy director and above. This provision covers employees of China's National Immigration Administration, and their spouses and children under 21; officials at the National Supervisory Commission (the top anti-graft watchdog); the Ministry of State Security (China's top security organ), and the Ministry of Public Security (China's top law enforcement agency) and their spouses and children under 30, it said.

"The student was denied because his family is involved in state public security work," Qiao Xiangdong, owner of Gewai Education, told the Global Times on Monday. 

Bai Limin, an expert in charge of undergraduate program applications in ZMN International Education, a Beijing-based educational consulting agency, confirmed to the Global Times the upgraded restrictions. 

"The application of one student in our agency, whose father works at the exit and entry management office, has been checked by visa officers for a long time. He has an offer from a leading university," Bai said.  

Since the US Embassy and consulates in China resumed accepting student visa applications on May 4, it's been hard for students to obtain visa interviews. 

The Global Times found the earliest available date for visa interviews in Beijing and Shanghai was June 1, while in Shenyang and Guangzhou it was May 20. No available dates were shown for postgraduate and PhD students'  interviews at the consulates in Shanghai and Guangzhou. 

According to Qiao, some students planning undergraduate studies in the US have obtained visas, but none of those pursuing postgraduate studies have received visas.

In May 2020, the US  banned Chinese postgraduate students and researchers from studying or working in the US if they had previously been affiliated with China's military-civil fusion strategy. 

An employee from a Beijing-based visa application agency told the Global Times on Monday that the ban is still effective, and some of the agency's students who planned to attend US universities were rejected by the visa center.

"Many of our clients with such special backgrounds are either waiting, or just giving up their study plans," said the employee. "The ban is purely political."

Elaine, an employee from another visa application center in Beijing, said that some of her clients, from universities "with a military background," and students applying to study science, technology, engineering and mathematics  subjects got rejected. "Those students are facing tougher scrutiny at the US visa application center this year."

A student surnamed Dong from the Nanjing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics, one of the universities the US has claimed shares ties with the Chinese military, is one of those who got rejected. "It was the last try [of applying for a visa] this year," Dong said. 

"I thought after Biden, a seemingly more liberal president, took office, all those previous ridiculous bans would be wiped out. It turns out they remain unchanged, even though the US is saying it welcomes all Chinese students," Dong said.

Dong said several of his classmates also got rejected. "We all have back-up plans… Since the US doesn't want us, we will head to Europe, and some Asian countries, like Singapore, for further study. I don't want to study in a country that keeps an eye on us like we are thieves." 

Other students said the terrible handling of the COVID-19 epidemic, frequent attacks on Asians, and rising skepticism and even discrimination against Chinese students in the US are making them more cautious about studying in the US.

Zhang Weiyong, a US-based expert on overseas education, believed that the US' move to resume processing visa applications from Chinese students aims to respond to pressure from US colleges, as the higher education community is a very important supporter of the Biden administration. 

Last month, 17 presidents and chancellors of universities throughout New York urged the US government to take actions to allow greater numbers of international students to return to US for the fall semester. They called for the reopening of US embassies and consulates to process student visas and facilitate visa appointments.

The US government made a gesture on promoting personnel exchanges between the US and China, but the intention to contain China by politicizing academic issues has not changed, Zhang said. 

According to Zhang, Chinese students are not only a major source of revenue for US schools, but also outstanding for their learning and practical ability. 

"An admissions official from a leading US university told me that they tried to enroll students from other countries, such as from Latin America, to make up for the loss of Chinese students, but only found that their learning capability, comprehensive qualities and skills were lagging far behind those of Chinese students," Zhang said.