The U.S. has revoked the visas of more than 1,000 Chinese students and researchers for national security reasons, drawing protests and a threat of possible retaliation from Beijing.
The visas were revoked under a measure intended to keep Chinese graduate students and researchers from stealing “technologies, intellectual property and information to develop advanced military capabilities,” a spokesman for the U.S. Embassy said Thursday in a statement. Those affected “represent a small subset” of visiting students and scholars, the Embassy said, adding that the U.S. continued to welcome “legitimate” students and researchers.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry denounced the U.S. action as “blatant political persecution and racist discrimination,” saying the move infringed on the students’ legitimate rights. “China reserves the right to take further actions,” ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told a briefing Thursday in Beijing.
The visas were canceled under a May presidential proclamation which targets Chinese citizens with ties to the People’s Liberation Army, the U.S. Embassy said. No information was provided about the individuals whose visas were canceled. The action was first reported by Reuters.
The move fueled speculation that the students were likely connected with or graduates of seven Chinese universities and their affiliated schools which are connected with national defense. The Department of Justice has been prosecuting Chinese researchers who it accuses of illegally concealing their connection to the PLA before receiving permission to live and work in the U.S.
The cancellations are likely to add to the uncertainty Chinese students face about studying or working in America. The Trump administration earlier vowed to deport all foreign national students if they didn’t take in-person classes during the pandemic, only to withdraw that rule days later, leaving students perplexed and worried about their legal status in the States.
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Regular visa services at the U.S. embassy in Beijing and the U.S. consulates in mainland China have been suspended since Feb. 3 due to the coronavirus outbreak. The consulate in Chengdu was closed in July after the U.S. closed the Chinese consulate in Houston.
(Updates with Chinese foreign ministry response.)
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