The Trump administration plans to cancel the visas of thousands of Chinese graduate students and researchers in the United States who have direct ties to universities affiliated with the People’s Liberation Army, according to American officials with knowledge of the discussions.
The plan would be the first designed to bar the access of a category of Chinese students, who, over all, form the single largest foreign student population in the United States.
It portends possible further educational restrictions, and the Chinese government could retaliate by imposing its own visa or educational bans on Americans. The two nations have already engaged in rounds of retribution over policies involving trade, technology and media access, and relations are at their worst point in decades.
American officials are discussing ways to punish China for its passage of a new national security law intended to enable crackdowns in Hong Kong, but the plans to cancel student visas were under consideration before the crisis over the law, which was announced last week by Chinese officials. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo discussed the visa plans with President Trump on Tuesday in a White House meeting.
American universities are expected to push back against the administration’s move. While international educational exchange is prized for its intellectual value, many schools also rely on full tuition payments from foreign students to help cover costs, especially the large group of students from China.
Administrators and teachers have been briefed in recent years by the F.B.I. and the Justice Department on potential national security threats posed by Chinese students, especially ones working in the sciences. But the university employees are wary of a possible new “red scare” that targets students of a specific national background and that could contribute to anti-Asian racism.
Many of them argue that they have effective security protocols in place, and that having Chinese students be exposed to the liberalizing effects of Western institutions outweighs the risks. Moreover, they say, the Chinese students are experts in their subject fields and bolster American research efforts.
Chinese students and researchers say growing scrutiny from the American government and new official limits on visas would create biases against them, including when they apply for jobs or grants.