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Chinese Student Concerns Amid Trade War

With continuous trade war tensions, Chinese students planning to study in the US fear visa rejection and social exclusion. But are their fears valid according to the students already there?

It was a peaceful day. No abnormalities could be detected. I was studying as usual when my father called my name from the living room and asked me to watch the TV. This is the news segment that I heard, “Chinese students who wish to go to the U.S. are facing prolonged visa scrutiny, shortened periods of validity, and increasing rejection rates. The Ministry of Education warns all students to evaluate the risks of pursuing a U.S. education and prepare for any unexpected events.” At that moment, I felt as if a lightning bolt had struck me, and my senses were overwhelmed by the thunder circulating in my head. I felt helpless. I wished to find out for myself. Therefore, this summer, while I was in the U.S. for the Harvard Secondary School Summer Program, I conducted investigations into this to find out the truth.

The ongoing U.S.-China trade war has fueled up over the past few months and has impacted multiple areas including education. Certainly, as an international student who is from China and currently studying in the U.S., I greatly fear that the trade war is going to affect me. Especially for those of us who wish to pursue our college education in the U.S. Evidently, this fear is not unfounded. The Trump presidency explicitly advocated for banning all front-line research that is initiated by Chinese scholars. He is suspicious that the researchers are spies sent by the Chinese government to steal confidential information from U.S. institutions, as he claims it to be a “whole-of-society threat.”

Educational institutions across the U.S. have responded to this cause. One prominent example is the shutdown of neuroscience research led by two Chinese researchers at Emory University in May. The two Chinese researchers were, in fact, a married couple. Their research was allegedly put to an end for not fully disclosing sources of funding and ties to institutions in China. This case stirred a wave of concern among Chinese scholars in the U.S. The concern is indeed valid, as confirmed by a faculty member I interviewed at Harvard University, who said that there is heightened scrutiny for Chinese-led research in American universities.

Chinese students who are currently studying in the U.S. generally express that no particular changes could be observed in their academic life.

This is also the case for visa application and issuing. Chinese students studying abroad may find that the waiting time for their visa is now longer than usual. Although this allegedly should only affect students who are going to the U.S. on a government scholarship or sponsorship of some sort, Chinese students who are unaffiliated with the government still express that they are much more careful now in their application. For instance, a student who is studying mathematics and computer science at Harvard Summer School said on his visa application form he is studying humanities. He said that this was to avoid the strong sensitivity around the scientific fields and to ultimately maximize his chance of passing.

However, Chinese students who are currently studying in the U.S. generally express that no particular changes could be observed in their academic life. One undergraduate student at Harvard assured me that universities, in general, are very liberal. “The truth is, faculties in universities are all smart enough to know that what Trump is doing is wrong,” he said. Concerns over a significant effect are unnecessary since the people that you will interact with on a daily basis in U.S. universities will generally disregard what Trump says.

Moreover, according to a report from the Migration Policy Institute, as much as 32.5 percent of international students studying in the U.S. are Chinese. Consequently, Chinese students make up a large portion of universities’ total revenue. Therefore, for these practical concerns, it will be very difficult for universities to throw away this large part of their income. It is safe to say for now that Chinese international students won’t be affected as much as expected by the U.S.-China trade war. Depending on your source of funding, you should not have to face any trouble in pursuing your college education in the U.S.