US risks losing appeal to Chinese students due to visa restrictions, surging pandemic: senior diplomat

The US risks losing its position as the top destination for overseas study and research for Chinese students and scholars due to visa restrictions and surging pandemic.

The United States risks losing its position as the top choice of destination for overseas study and research for Chinese students and scholars due to its visa restrictions and surging COVID-19 pandemic in the country, a senior Chinese diplomat has said.

"Student exchange is the most active part of China-US educational cooperation. However, the current situation has made studying in the US much less attractive, at least in the near future, especially for STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) majors," said Yang Xinyu, minister counselor for educational affairs at the Chinese Embassy in the United States.

"The pandemic has made most in-person exchanges impossible... Besides the fact that in the past few months federal policy has changed to make international students nervous, Chinese students and scholars are also facing more challenges and feeling unwelcome or even threatened," said Yang in a recent conversation with Julia Chang Bloch, president of US-China Education Trust, a Washington D.C.-based nonprofit organization, and former US ambassador to Nepal.

US President Donald Trump's administration has issued tougher immigration policies for international students, in particular, special scrutiny and restrictions for Chinese students, who made up one third of over 1 million international students in the United States before the pandemic.

"I have heard of very outstanding Chinese students giving up offers for STEM majors in prestigious US universities and turning to less attractive universities in other countries in fear of possible risks," said Yang.

"In the short term, it means loss to both the student as an individual and the American university as an institute. But in the long run, it will be detrimental to the educational exchange and research collaboration between the two countries," she added.

Studying in the United States this year is "much more challenging than usual" as the country has so far failed to contain the virus since the pandemic grabbed the nation in February, Yang said.

The pandemic has left "direct and immediate impact" on Chinese students studying or planning to study in the United States as it has created "more uncertainty and risks" for international students than their American peers, said Yang.

US universities and colleges closed their campuses and residential buildings, and moved classes online when the pandemic hit the country. And international students have been faced with a dilemma over whether to return to their home country or not.

"For those Chinese students who were able to return home, things are not perfect either," she said.

"To continue with their studies, they have to take online courses from home, with a 12-hour time difference. Having no campus environment, taking classes at midnight, yet paying the same tuition, makes their study abroad experience not as desirable as it should be," she explained.

The United States has recorded more than 16 million cases of COVID-19 with over 297,000 related deaths as of Saturday evening, according to the real-time count kept by Johns Hopkins University.

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