** LEGAL UPDATE **
The Trump administration recently announced a plan to examine visa applications and existing visas of Chinese students and researchers in the United States at or above graduate level, and to revoke or deny any where the person has direct ties to universities affiliated with the People’s Liberation Army (PLA).
The proclamation applies solely to people from China on F visas (academic students) and J visas (exchange students/scholars). Other types of visa holders aren't affected; nor are China-born permanent residents or citizens of the United States.
The U.S. government's stated rationale was that such PLA-affiliated students "operate as non-traditional collectors of intellectual property" and "are at high risk of being exploited or co-opted by the PRC authorities." If that sounds like coded language for "they might be spies," it basically is. The New York Times also points out that China and the U.S. are engaged in a trade war, and at a seeming low point in their relations.
Rebecca Bernhard, partner at the international law firm Dorsey & Whitney, comments, "The actual suspension likely will impact a narrow number of graduate students and scholars. However, because of the scrutiny to determine which students will be suspended from entry, all students and scholars will face a lot of questions."
Bernhard adds that the burden will likely be on applicants to "document that their research program is NOT subject to the bar." In other words, applicants will need to be ready to show the consular officer who reviews their application convincing documentation that they're not affiliated with a PLA-associated university in China.
Even if this proclamation impacts a small percentage of F and J visa holders or applicants from China, the raw numbers could be significant. The New York Times estimates that thousands of people could be affected, given that China sends more students to the U.S. than any other country.
If you're an existing F or J visa holder from China and worried that your visa could be revoked, you'd be wise to avoid travel outside the U.S. for now, and to consult an experienced immigration attorney.
As for new applicants, even people from China who might ultimately be approved for F or J visas can expect longer-than-normal delays at U.S. consulates while their situation is scrutinized. And that's on top of the existing delays cause by the fact that travelers from China are currently banned based on the coronavirus or COVID-19 pandemic and that U.S. consulates around the world are mostly closed except for emergency services.
Effective Date: June 1, 2020