Chinese students being ‘harassed and interrogated’ in US, education ministry says

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China’s education ministry has warned of what it called a rise in “harassment and interrogations” of Chinese students in the United States, in a notice issued on Tuesday.

The ministry said US Customs and Border Protection had launched a campaign in August that stepped up scrutiny of Chinese studying in the STEM fields – science, technology, engineering and mathematics – in the country.

Many of them, in the US on F1 student visas, had been harassed, interrogated and deported without a valid reason or charge, according to the notice. It said some of the deported students’ electronic devices had been checked and confiscated by US law enforcement officers before they left the country.

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“The Ministry of Education once again reminds students who are studying in the United States to be aware of safety and pay attention to potential risks in the country … and abide by the rules of relevant institutions and reply to communications on time to prevent any disruption to classes,” the notice said.

The ministry urged students to contact China’s embassy or consulates in the United States if they needed help. The notice was posted on the WeChat account of the Chinese Service Centre for Scholarly Exchange under the ministry.

The US imposed visa restrictions on Chinese students with links to the military when Donald Trump was president. Photo: AP
The US imposed visa restrictions on Chinese students with links to the military when Donald Trump was president. Photo: AP

It follows a notice from China’s consulate in Los Angeles last month that said multiple Chinese students had been held at the city’s international airport by border agents and questioned about their academic activities and why they were studying in the US. The consulate said it had lodged a representation with the US government and called for it to end “unwarranted restrictions and suppression against Chinese students”.

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Visa restrictions were imposed on Chinese students affiliated with the military – or universities deemed by the US to be part of China’s military modernisation efforts – during the Trump era.

In May, the US embassy in Beijing said it had resumed processing of student visa applications for Chinese nationals after a year-long hiatus, but those with a “hi-tech” background would be subject to extra screening and the restrictions on those with military links would remain. Chinese officials have said some limitations have continued and appealed to Washington to drop the visa restrictions.

Despite the growing hostility between Beijing and Washington – which are at odds over issues ranging from trade and technology to human rights – China remains the biggest source of international students in the US. There were more than 380,000 Chinese students in the country last year, according to US State Department data.

The US granted 33,896 F1 visas to Chinese nationals in June, a big jump from only eight in the same month of 2020, when US missions worldwide suspended routine visa services because of the pandemic. This year’s figure was back to a similar level to June 2019.

Beijing called on Washington to lift visa restrictions on Chinese students and resume people-to-people exchanges – part of action it wanted taken to ease tensions – when US deputy secretary of state Wendy Sherman visited China in July.

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