Reversing yet another policy of the previous administration, the U.S. Department of State today began applying tougher restrictions on some Chinese graduate students. The new policy shortens from 5 years to 1 year the duration of visas for those planning to study aviation, robotics, and advanced manufacturing. Although the ostensible reason for the change is to improve national security, U.S. university officials see it as the latest attack on graduate education and the free flow of scientific knowledge.
The revised visa policy was initially reported last month by various media outlets and confirmed last week by a senior departmental official during a hearing on student visas by a Senate panel on border security and immigration. The title of the hearing paints the dilemma in stark terms: “Student Visa Integrity: Protecting Educational Opportunity and National Security.”
The new rule will make it harder for the affected Chinese students to attend international conferences and to work collaboratively with scientists abroad, U.S. higher education officials say. It may also curtail periodic visits back home. When added to other policies by the current administration that affect non-U.S. citizens, academic officials say, the visa change gives these talented foreign students one more reason to pursue advanced degrees in countries with lower barriers to entry. “For decades, doing their graduate work in the U.S. was a no-brainer” for the best Chinese students, says Wojtek Chodzko-Zajko, graduate dean at the University of Illinois in Champaign. “But now, they have to decide if they really want to come here.”