China Hails Progress on U.S. Student Visas While Trump Stays Silent

(Bloomberg) -- China said this weekend’s summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and counterpart Xi Jinping yielded progress on a highly sensitive issue for hundreds of thousands of Chinese families: The ability to send their children to study at American schools.

Chinese students have been caught in the middle this year as espionage fears have threatened to open a new front in the trade war between the two nations. China’s official Xinhua News Agency on Sunday hinted at a thaw, highlighting what it called progress toward reducing obstacles for Chinese students and saying the two countries agreed to “increase communication in education.”

“Trump said the U.S. side welcomes Chinese students to study in his country,” it reported after the leaders met at the Group of 20 summit in Argentina.

Still, the White House didn’t mention anything about Chinese students in a statement after the meeting, and officials didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Earlier this year, Trump’s administration revealed plans to curtail the ability of some Chinese students to stay in the U.S. -- part of what it deemed a campaign to thwart foreign attempts to steal American intellectual property. During an August dinner with CEOs and senior staffers, Trump claimed that almost every student coming to the U.S. from China “is a spy,” according to Politico.

Setting Limits

A June White House report identified Chinese students as potential threats to national security, saying China accounts for some 25 percent of graduate students in the U.S. specializing in science, technology, engineering or math. Beijing “may seek to manipulate or pressure even unwitting or unwilling Chinese nationals into becoming non-traditional information collectors” to serve its military and strategic ambitions, the report said.

It followed the administration’s May decision to set limits on Chinese visa applications, cutting short the amount of time some Chinese citizens could stay in the U.S. and maintaining the existing policy of five years’ maximum validity for student visas.

The move was cheered by China critics in Washington, including Sen. Marco Rubio. “Student & academic visas are another weapon they use against us in their campaign to steal & cheat their way to world dominance,” the Florida Republican tweeted.

American action against Chinese students is a major worry in China, where the U.S. is a popular destination for families wanting to get their children ahead by sending them to school abroad.

Of more than 1 million international students in the U.S. in the 2017-2018 school year, one-third came from China, according to the Institute of International Education, a New York non-profit organization.

Immigrants from China and other nations have been shown to typically pay higher tuition rates that can help subsidize educations of their native-born peers. As of 2013, 84 percent of Chinese doctorates remained in America five years after graduation, according to the National Science Foundation.

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