U.S. Trade And Immigration Policies Toward China Have Backfired

Of note, impact on visa restrictions on Chinese students and researchers:

When small children start playing chess they make one common mistake—they forget the other side gets to a make a move. That analogy describes U.S. policy toward China in three areas: trade, semiconductors and immigration. In all three areas, U.S. policies described by supporters as “tough” have backfired.

Innovation and International Students: Is it a good idea to let the FBI and members of the National Security Council develop innovation policies for the U.S. economy? Whether it’s a good idea or not, that is what’s happened when it comes to students, professors and researchers from China.

On May 29, 2020, Donald Trump issued presidential proclamation 10043 (PP10043) on the “Suspension of Entry as Nonimmigrants of Certain Students and Researchers from the People’s Republic of China (PRC).” The proclamation led the State Department to deny and revoke many visas for Chinese graduate students and researchers

At its core, the proclamation denies a visa to someone who studied at a particular university on a proscribed list, even if no negative information exists on the individual. The proclamation sweeps up many people who show no evidence of bad intent. Picture an American young person denied a visa to study in a foreign country because he or she attended MIT and professors at MIT have received Pentagon funds or U.S. government research grants.

At least hundreds and possibly thousands of Chinese graduate students and researchers have been refused visas under the proclamation. Exact figures are unavailable because the State Department has not been forthcoming in releasing information despite many requests. Official figures would understate the proclamation’s impact because individuals who believe they will be denied visas would not even apply.

In a June 2020 interview conducted soon after the proclamation took effect, Jeffrey Gorsky, former Chief of the Legal Advisory Opinion section of the Visa Office in the State Department and an advisor to the National Foundation for American Policy, predicted the current impact. “There is already a longstanding program in place to vet potential students based on concerns over the transfer of sensitive technologies,” he said. “This proclamation will exclude persons from the United States based on past or minor associations with PRC entities even if the individuals pass the interagency clearance process. America will lose out on a valuable talent pool and the financial and scientific contributions these students make to U.S. universities and the United States.”

The policy is costly to the United States. Every 1,000 Ph.D.’s blocked in a year from U.S. universities costs an estimated $210 billion in the expected value of patents produced at universities over 10 years and nearly $1 billion in lost tuition over a decade, according to an analysisfrom the National Foundation for American Policy. That does not include other economic costs, such as the loss of highly productive scientists and engineers prevented from working in the U.S. economy or patents and innovations produced outside university settings. Approximately 75% of graduate students in computer science and electrical engineering at U.S. universities are international students, primarily from China and India.

As with trade, the Biden administration has continued the questionable policies on Chinese graduate students started by the Trump administration. A China expert on the current National Security Council staff has written favorably of the restrictions on international students from China. Immigration policy people who favor restrictions on international students, such as Trump adviser Stephen Miller, understood the proclamation would keep out many Chinese students. It’s not clear people with expertise on China understand enough about how visa policies are implemented to appreciate the significant negative impact of these policies on U.S. innovation.

Two recent reports question FBI investigations of Chinese-born professors at U.S. universities that have resulted in few successful criminal prosecutions.

“There is insufficient evidence that academic/economic espionage by Chinese nationals is a widespread problem at U.S. universities,” writes Rory Truex, an assistant professor at Princeton University, in a 2021 paper. “After 20 months of ongoing investigations in 2019 and 2020, the ‘China Initiative’—a Department of Justice (DOJ) effort—had brought formal charges at only ten U.S. universities or research institutions, and only three cases involved any evidence of espionage, theft, or transfer of intellectual property. Given that there are about 107,000 Chinese citizens in STEM [fields] at U.S. universities at the graduate level or above, current DOJ charges imply a criminality rate in this population of .0000934, less than 1/10,000.” (Formal charges are not convictions, and DOJ has dropped several cases.)

A recent investigation by the MIT Technology Review found the Department of Justice’s China Initiative investigations have devolved primarily into finding disclosure and paperwork violations. “The initiative’s focus increasingly has moved away from economic espionage and hacking cases to ‘research integrity’ issues, such as failures to fully disclose foreign affiliations on forms.”

The MIT Technology Review concluded: “Our reporting and analysis showed that the climate of fear created by the prosecutions has already pushed some talented scientists to leave the United States and made it more difficult for others to enter or stay, endangering America’s ability to attract new talent in science and technology from China and around the world.” A former U.S. attorney who helped create DOJ’s China Initiative during the Trump administration agreed with the MIT Technology Review critique.

The Thousand Talents recruitment program started by China’s government in 2008 encourages Chinese scientists overseas to return to China and, more generally, for talented Chinese-born scientists to work in China rather than the United States. It would seem current U.S. policies have backfired and support the long-term goals of the Chinese Communist Party to bring talent back to China.

Source: U.S. Trade And Immigration Policies Toward China Have Backfired

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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