The U.S. has revoked more than 1,000 visas for Chinese nationals in an effort to protect “sensitive materials,” the State Department announced Wednesday.
Under a May 29 presidential proclamation, entry to Chinese students and researchers with suspected ties to China’s military has been suspended. According to Chad Wolf, the Department of Homeland Security’s acting head, the move effectively prevents the theft of confidential research and information, Reuters reported.
In a speech, Wolf accused China of attempting to steal crucial coronavirus research and exploit American academia. He also said canceling the visas was designed to prevent goods produced from slave labor from entering the country’s market — a reference to China’s alleged abuses of Uighur Muslims in the Xinjiang region.
The crackdown has affected more than 1,000 Chinese nationals, mostly graduate students and researchers. It also may target Chinese academics who receive funding from their home nation to continue their studies overseas.
“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,” a State Department spokeswoman said.
Late last month, FBI agents arrested two Chinese nationals suspected of stealing information for China while working as researchers at American universities.
In a statement released Aug. 28, the U.S. Department of Justice said Hu Haizhou, a researcher at the University of Virginia, had plans of escaping to China by buying tickets for a flight from Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport. Hu was found in possession of a simulation software code that he was not authorized to carry.
Yang Zhihui, another Chinese researcher, was arrested Aug. 31 while she was attempting to board a flight from Los Angeles. The Wall Street Journal reported that she was set to be a witness against another Chinese researcher and her fiancee, Guan Lei, who was arrested earlier in the summer.
Guan was arrested after a witness saw him disposing of a damaged hard drive. An investigation showed the information in the hard drive had been removed before the incident.
In June, China released a statement where they opposed any move by the U.S. that restricted Chinese nationals from studying in America. It also urged the U.S. government to enhance mutual understanding at a time when the two superpowers are experiencing deteriorating relations.
On Sunday, the Chinese government stopped renewing press credentials for journalists working for American-owned news organizations. According to the New York Times, Beijing also threatened expulsions if the Trump administration continues to take action against Chinese media employees working in the U.S.