Senators Aim to Cut China’s Access to 10-Year Visas With New Bill

February 26, 2021 Updated: February 26, 2021

Five U.S. senators on Feb. 25 introduced legislation to revoke Beijing’s access to 10-year multi-entry visas, a policy they said has enabled Chinese abuses that pose national security risks.

The 10-year visa program, which was rolled out in 2014 during the Obama administration, grants citizens multiple short-term visits to the other country over a 10-year period.

But the Chinese regime has exploited the preferential policy to its advantage by sending agents to conduct espionage against the United States while escalating aggression elsewhere, the senators said.

“In issuing these visas, the U.S. has welcomed the CCP [Chinese Communist Party], its intelligence agencies, and those they have co-opted with open arms,” Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) said in a statement.

Titled the Visa Security Act, the bill (pdf) calls for the United States to revoke the privilege and revert back to the previous one year visa, unless the regime ceases its “malign activities”—its military provocation towards Taiwan; oppression of Hongkongers, Uyghur Muslims, Tibetans; and hostage-taking of foreign citizens.

“Until the Chinese Communist Party ends its systematic violations of human rights and religious freedom, the United States cannot remain complicit by offering 10-year multi-entry visas to Chinese nationals,” said Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.). “The Visa Security Act will stop the revolving door the CCP has used for half a decade and instead demand accountability in the global human rights effort.”

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said the action is “long overdue.”

“China should not be given special treatment that is out of step with our relationship, the abuses they are committing, and its malign activities in the U.S.,” he said.

The policy proposed in the bill would not affect applicants from Taiwan or Hong Kong.

Chinese espionage has drawn bipartisan concern in recent years.

Since launching the China Initiative in 2018 targeting Chinese state-sanctioned stealing of trade secrets, the Justice Department has prosecuted dozens of individuals linked back to China. In 2020 alone, U.S. prosecutors identified six people who hid their Chinese military ties in order to study in the United States. The arrests of undercover Chinese military officers led to over 1,000 such researchers leaving the United States, a senior Justice Department official said in December last year.

Chinese citizens wait to submit their vi
Chinese citizens wait to submit their visa applications at the US Embassy where blind rights activist Chen Guangcheng is believed to be hiding, in Beijing on May 2, 2012. (Mark Ralston/AFP/GettyImages)

Lawmakers have pressed for higher visa scrutiny, citing risks that Chinese state actors could take advantage of the visa program to transfer sensitive technology or data.

The Stop China’s IP Theft Act reintroduced by Rep. Debbie Lesko (R-Ariz.) in February called for denying visas to senior Chinese officials and military members, with the aim of preventing attempts of intellectual property theft.

A week earlier, Cotton’s office released a report with strategies for targeted decoupling from China recommending halting the 10-year visa program and blocking Chinese students from enrolling in sensitive STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) fields.

In December, the State Department under the Trump administration placed visa restrictions on CCP members and their immediate families who travel for business or tourism, slashing their maximum allowed stay from 10 years to one month. Officials said at the time that the rule change was in line with policies to “protect our nation from the CCP’s malign influence.”

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