PALO ALTO, U.S. — President Donald Trump announced Friday that Chinese students and scholars that his administration considers to have ties to China’s military will not be allowed entry into the U.S. to pursue graduate level research.
A statement released later by the White House said the new measures go into effect at 12 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time on June 1.
The secretary of state will also consider whether to revoke the legal status of some Chinese nationals currently in the country on F student or J researcher visas who are suspected of having military ties, according to the announcement.
The policy was announced as part of the administration’s tougher stance toward China. Trump also announced the elimination of Hong Kong’s special treatment in response to China’s decision to impose a new national security law on the territory. Trump also said the U.S. would terminate its relationship with the World Health Organization, saying it was controlled by Beijing.
China’s authorities “use some Chinese students, mostly postgraduate students and post-doctorate researchers, to operate as nontraditional collectors of intellectual property,” Trump said in the statement.
Students or researchers from China studying or conducting research “beyond the undergraduate level who are or have been associated with the People’s Liberation Army are at high risk of being exploited or co-opted” by China and are particular cause for concern, Trump said.
The president said people who receive funding or conduct research for entities that implement China’s “military-civil fusion strategy” are subject to the ban.
Chinese nationals who pursue undergraduate studies in the U.S. will not be subject to the entry limit, according to the announcement.
Trump’s announcement is the latest effort by the U.S. to restrict China’s access to U.S. technologies, following tighter restrictions on Huawei imposed earlier this month.
Officials in Washington have been discussing placing limits on Chinese students entering the U.S. for months. On Wednesday, three Republican lawmakers proposed a bill that would bar all Chinese nationals from receiving student or research visas to the U.S. for graduate or postgraduate studies in science, technology, engineering or mathematics.
The Friday White House announcement also stated that 60 days after June 1, the secretary of state will review the country’s nonimmigrant and immigrant visa programs and make further recommendations, if necessary, to protect U.S. technology and intellectual property.
For now, the Friday announcement will likely only impact “a narrow number of [Chinese] graduate students and scholars,” said immigration lawyer Rebecca Bernhard, a partner at international law firm Dorsey & Whitney.
However, it will create additional burdens for all students and scholars from China, as they will need to prove that their research is not related to the military-civil fusion strategy, which would mean additional paperwork and visa processing time.
“The term ‘military-civil fusion strategy’ as it is used in the proclamation is basically going to be subject to interpretation because it is not precise,” said Bernhard. “Things will get complicated as a result and perhaps we will see inconsistencies in the early days.”
According to the White House announcement, the military-civil fusion strategy is defined as actions that acquire and divert foreign technology in order to benefit the Chinese military.
“We do not yet know which fields of study or research this action would target,” said Diane Hernandez, an immigration attorney at law firm Hall Estill.
According to Hernandez, the proclamation is likely to be challenged in court and “most certainly will meet with heavy pushback from U.S. universities and research organizations that rely on foreign talent to complete their goals.”
More than 360,000 Chinese students were enrolled at American colleges in the 2017-18 academic year, making them the largest cohort of foreign students in the U.S.
Beijing has yet to announce retaliatory measures but has previously called the U.S. move to target Chinese students a “Cold-War mentality.”
“Were the U.S. side to adopt measures harming Chinese students’ lawful rights and interests, it would be stark political persecution and racial discrimination, and a grave violation of their human rights,” said China Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian at Friday’s news conference.
“We urge the U.S. side to abide by its leadership’s commitment and immediately stop using all sorts of excuses to wantonly restrict and repress Chinese students in the U.S.,” Zhao said.