The Biden administration announced changes in April that eased restrictions on visas and expanded a national exemption for Chinese students that allows them to re-enter the United States despite the ongoing pandemic. Students previously had to contend with a travel ban from early 2020 that barred nearly all non-US citizens from entering the United States from China. The update in travel policies will have a significant impact on American educational exchanges with China, which has long sent more students to the United States than any other country.
US diplomatic posts in China cancelled most in-person appointments for both immigrant and non-immigrant visas more than 13 months ago due to the pandemic, a significant roadblock for Chinese students who planned to attend college in the United States during the fall 2020 semester. The travel ban is likely to have had significant economic consequences for the United States, as international students are some of the most important contributors to the US economy. Chinese students pay mostly out of pocket for tuition, fees and other living expenses, adding $45 billion to the US economy in 2019.
America’s embassy and consulates in China resumed visa appointments starting on May 4, 2021. The US embassy in Beijing and the consulate in Shanghai saw an uptick in applicants for student visas, with the embassy receiving over 3,000 applications within an hour of opening its website to accept submissions.
Obstacles to expanded educational exchange do remain, however. In 2018, the Trump administration announced that the length of visas for Chinese graduate students working in certain fields within the United States would be cut to one year. This move attempted to protect advanced US technology and ensure advantages for US citizens in the American job market. As visa restrictions may harm free and welcoming academic exchanges between China and the United States, easing such limitations on Chinese students may have a significantly positive impact on US-China ties.
Shoitsu Nakayama is a participant in the Young Professionals Program at the East-West Center in Washington. She recently received her master’s degree in International Relations from New York University, where she concentrated in Asian Studies. She holds a BA in International Affairs with a minor in Japanese from Northeastern University. Shoitsu’s academic expertise focuses on US-China cooperation and competition, South and East China Sea conflicts and security, and human rights issues in Hong Kong and Taiwan.