Republican lawmakers have proposed legislation that would bar Chinese nationals from receiving visas for graduate or post-graduate study in science and technology in the United States.
Sens. Tom Cotton (Ark.) and Marsha Blackburn (Tenn.), and Rep. David Kustoff (Tenn.) unveiled the bill on May 27, saying the measure was a response to Chinese state-sanctioned academic espionage and intellectual property (IP) theft on U.S. college campuses.
“Beijing exploits student and research visas to steal science, technology, engineering and manufacturing secrets from U.S. academic and research institutions,” Blackburn said in a statement. “We’ve fed China’s innovation drought with American ingenuity and taxpayer dollars for too long; it’s time to secure the U.S. research enterprise against the CCP’s [Chinese Communist Party] economic espionage.”
The legislation would also block participants of the Chinese regime’s foreign talent recruitment programs from receiving or working on federal research grants in science and technology. The regime’s recruitment initiatives, including the Thousand Talents Plan, which aims to attract foreign experts to work in China, have been criticized for facilitating the transfer of U.S. IP to China.
Earlier this month, three researchers, in three separate cases, were arrested and charged for failing to disclose their participation in the Thousand Talents Plan.
Chinese nationals who belong to religious or ethnic groups suppressed by the CCP would be exempted from these measures, as well as applicants from Hong Kong and Taiwan.
There are approximately 370,000 Chinese students studying in the United States, according to statistics compiled by the nonprofit Institute of International Education and the U.S. State Department.
The bill comes as the Trump administration is set to cancel the visas of thousands of Chinese graduate students who have ties to universities affiliated to the Chinese military, according to The New York Times and Reuters, citing anonymous U.S. officials.
In January, federal prosecutors charged an exchange student at Boston University, Ye Yanqing, for visa fraud. The justice department said Ye was a lieutenant in the People’s Liberation Army but failed to disclose her military service when applying for her visa.
Cotton told Fox News in April that it was a “scandal” that the United States has trained some Chinese nationals to “go back to China to compete for our jobs, to take our business, and ultimately to steal our property and design weapons and other devices that can be used against the American people.”
“If Chinese students want to come here and study Shakespeare and the Federalist Papers, that’s what they need to learn from America,” Cotton said. “They don’t need to learn quantum computing and artificial intelligence from America.”
Some critics, however, say that targeting all students from China would be racist and excessive.
U.S. security officials have repeatedly warned of the threat of Chinese economic espionage at U.S. academic and research facilities.
In December 2019, a Chinese researcher at Harvard University’s Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center was arrested at the airport before he was to board a Beijing-bound flight with 21 vials of biological materials stolen from the Harvard lab, according to the justice department.
Charles Lieber, Harvard’s chemistry department chair, was arrested in January and charged with lying about funding he received from the Thousand Talents Plan.