Dark room in Dulles - nightmare for Chinese students
Published: Feb 01, 2024 09:32 PM
Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

Being taken away by the police at the airport, put into a dark room, held and interrogated for hours, and then sent back to the home country... These events sound like something that would only appear in a James Bond movie. However, this same spy movie horror is happening to Chinese students entering the US over and over again.

At Washington Dulles Airport, the world's fifth-largest airport, there have been cases of Chinese students being repatriated almost on a monthly basis in recent months. These students held valid visas, had no criminal record, and were simply returning to school after traveling elsewhere or reuniting with their families in China. Unfortunately, upon landing at the airport, they were not greeted with warm smiles but instead encountered stone-faced "law enforcement" officers in a dark room. This situation has now become an insurmountable barrier for Chinese students who wish to pursue further studies in the US.

Any Chinese student who has experienced the "full-course dark-room service" will tell you that it is an absolute nightmare. It can take up to 10 hours to go through the whole process. The dark room is officially referred to as the "Secondary Office," where no electronic devices are allowed and contact with the outside world is impossible. In addition to being interrogated, students are often coerced into revealing passwords to their cell phones, personal computers, and other devices. Several hours later, no matter what comes out of the interrogation, it inevitably leads to the "Big Three" consequences: an on-the-spot visa cancellation, a five-year entry ban and mandatory repatriation. Worse yet, the students will be kept in an isolation brig, without access to personal belongings or the ability to contact friends or family, until their return flight takes off. 

Entering the US is not the hardest part for Chinese students who wish to study there. After all, with all the discriminatory policies imposed by the US government, it is already difficult for Chinese students to obtain visas in the first place. In 2020, President Donald Trump signed an executive order, suspending the issuance of F and J visas to Chinese students who fit a certain profile. The Biden administration not only inherited Trump's policy, but took it further. The total number of student visas issued to Chinese students in 2023 dropped by 33 percent compared to the number in 2019.

Even if a Chinese student was given a visa, they could still be banned from entering the US on the grounds of "threat to national security." This not only applies to STEM students, but also those who wish to pursue liberal arts. As absurd as it sounds, such a discriminatory practice further attests to the fact that the US is abusing the concept of "national security" to push forward its containment agenda against China.

Some in the US argue that such cases account for a tiny proportion of all Chinese students who have been granted US visa, hence there is no need to make a fuss about it. But the truth is, for all these hardworking and law-abiding Chinese students, they carry the hope of their entire family, and the US harassment and repatriation are a total violation of their lawful interests.

Confucius advocated providing education for all without discrimination. Educator John Amos Comenius proposed "teaching everyone everything completely." Science knows no borders, because knowledge belongs to the entire humanity. The US boasts openness, inclusiveness and academic freedom, but it is fencing off and unabashedly suppressing and persecuting the Chinese students, which once again shows the world what US-style hypocrisy looks like.

Science is the torch illuminating the path to human progress. It is in the shared interests of China, the US and the whole world to have the brightest minds working together and shaping a future in the interest of all humanity. For that to happen, the US must stop all discriminatory practices against Chinese students, sooner rather than later.

The author is a Beijing-based international affairs commentator. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn