The United States has revoked visas for more than 1,000 Chinese nationals under a May 29 presidential proclamation to suspend entry from China of students and researchers deemed security risks, according to the US Department of State.
The acting head of the US Department of Homeland Security, Chad Wolf, said earlier that Washington was blocking visas “for certain Chinese graduate students and researchers with ties to China’s military fusion strategy, to prevent them from stealing and otherwise appropriating sensitive research.”
In a speech, Wolf repeated US charges of unjust business practices and industrial espionage by China, including attempts to steal coronavirus research, and accused it of abusing student visas to exploit US academia.
Wolf said the US was also “preventing goods produced from slave labour from entering our markets, demanding that China respect the inherent dignity of each human being” – an apparent reference to alleged abuses of Muslims in China’s far-western Xinjiang region.
A State Department spokeswoman told Reuters news agency on Wednesday that the visa action was being taken under a proclamation President Donald Trump made on May 29 as part of the US response to China’s plans to impose national security legislation on Hong Kong.
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“As of September 8, 2020, the department has revoked more than 1,000 visas of PRC nationals who were found to be subject to Presidential Proclamation 10043 and therefore ineligible for a visa,” the unnamed spokeswoman said, using the initials for the People’s Republic of China.
She said the ineligible “high-risk graduate students and research scholars” represented “a small subset” of the Chinese coming to the US to study and conduct research and that legitimate students and scholars would continue to be welcomed.
China said in June that it opposed any US move to restrict Chinese students from studying in the US and urged Washington to do more to enhance mutual exchanges and understanding.
Some 360,000 Chinese nationals study in the US, bringing in significant revenue to higher education, although the COVID-19 pandemic has severely disrupted the new semesters.
China-US relations have sunk to historic lows, with the world’s two biggest economies clashing over issues ranging from trade and human rights to Hong Kong and the coronavirus.
Trump, who had touted friendly ties with Chinese President Xi Jinping as he sought to deliver on promises to rebalance a massive trade deficit, has made getting tough on China a key part of his campaign for re-election on November 3.
Trump has accused his Democratic opponent, Joe Biden, who leads in national opinion polls, of being soft towards Beijing.
Earlier, some Chinese students enrolled in US universities said they received emailed notices on Wednesday from the US Embassy in Beijing or US consulates in China informing them that their visas had been cancelled.
Over 60 students holding F-1 visas including postgraduates and undergraduates said in a WeChat group that the notices stated they would have to apply for new visas if they wanted to travel to the US.
Many said they were studying subjects such as science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
Some said they were postgraduates who obtained bachelor’s degrees at Chinese universities with links to the People’s Liberation Army.
A final year undergraduate student at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign was shocked to have received the notice.
The only reason he could think of would be his previous experience at the Beijing University of Posts and Telecommunications, a Chinese university known for its defence and security technology research.
In May, sources with knowledge of the matter told Reuters that Washington was planning to cancel the visas of thousands of Chinese graduate students believed to have links to China’s military.
Al Jazeera and news agencies