Republican senators have unveiled a bill that prohibits Chinese nationals from studying STEM fields at the graduate and postgraduate levels in the U.S.
The bill, known as the Secure Campus Act, comes from Sens. Tom Cotton (R-Arkansas) and Marsha Blackburn (R-Tennessee), while companion legislation comes from Rep. David Kustoff (R-Tennessee) in the House of Representatives.
The Secure Campus Act responds to the alleged usage of American universities by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to conduct espionage for their economic benefit.
It cites the case of Simon Saw-Teong Ang, a professor at the University of Arkansas who was arrested on a wire fraud charge after failing to disclose his ties with the Chinese government when he applied for U.S. grants.
The bill specifically bans Chinese nationals from receiving student or research visas for graduate or postgraduate studies in science, technology, engineering, and math in the U.S.
It also places restrictions on participants in Chinese foreign talent-recruitment initiatives such as the Thousand Talents Program, which aims to identify experts — primarily those who are ethnically Chinese — around the world and invite them to bring their knowledge to China.
Ang, who faces up to 20 years in prison, was a participant in said program. Prior to his arrest, the 63-year-old had been working at the University of Arkansas for more than three decades.
The Department of Justice argues that Ang was responsible for numerous wires that facilitated his scheme to defraud. The tenured engineering professor served as a principal investigator of American grant contracts worth over $5 million.
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Ang has authored and co-authored more than 300 research articles. He also holds four U.S. patents.
“You can search the Chinese website regarding what the US will do to Thousand Talent Scholars,” Ang wrote in an email cited in the Justice Department’s affidavit. “Not many people here know I am one of them but if this leaks out, my job here will be in deep troubles.”
Cotton first floated the idea of banning Chinese nationals from studying advanced science and technology fields in an interview last month. He claimed that China must be “actively trying” to steal U.S. intellectual property to find ways to deal with the coronavirus that they “unleashed on the world.”
“The Chinese Communist Party has long used American universities to conduct espionage on the United States. What’s worse is that their efforts exploit gaps in current law. It’s time for that to end. The SECURE CAMPUS Act will protect our national security and maintain the integrity of the American research enterprise,” Cotton said in a statement.
“Beijing exploits student and research visas to steal science, technology, engineering and manufacturing secrets from U.S. academic and research institutions,” said Blackburn. “We’ve fed China’s innovation drought with American ingenuity and taxpayer dollars for too long; it’s time to secure the U.S. research enterprise against the CCP’s economic espionage.”
Kustoff added: “Student visas should be only for those who want to contribute to our research institutions and advance our national interests. Unfortunately, China’s Communist Party has been exploiting our universities to spy and steal our technology for far too long. This bill will put an end to this abuse. I am proud to introduce this legislation with my friends Senator Cotton and Senator Blackburn that will help safeguard our nation’s national security.”
The bill, however, provides a waiver for members of religious or ethnic groups “systematically oppressed” by the CCP. Additionally, it does not apply to visa applicants from Taiwan and Hong Kong.
Regardless, some have already criticized the legislation and described it as a modern-day “Chinese Exclusion Act.” Signed in 1882, that law halted Chinese immigration and prevented them from becoming U.S. citizens.
“This is just a modern day Chinese Exclusion Act. Republicans had to reach back 100 years to find something so vile and repugnant,” wrote the AAPI Victory Fund, a super PAC committed to mobilizing Asian American and Pacific Islander voters.
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