Anasthasia Shilov, staff illustrator
More than two years after the Trump administration instituted a restrictive visa policy against Chinese graduate students and researchers, Yale graduate students continue to face problems obtaining or renewing their student visas to come to the campus.
Proclamation 10043, the presidential proclamation declared on May 29, 2020, prohibits the entry or issuance of visas to Chinese students enrolled in graduate programs in the United States with ties to Chinese “military-civilian” universities. Several graduate students enrolled at Yale have encountered problems renewing their student visas, ranging from lengthy processing times at U.S. embassies to rejection of their applications. Some Chinese students said they chose to stay in the United States for the duration of their program for fear of being barred from re-entering the country if they returned home. These visa issues can lead to personal turmoil and harm transnational scientific collaboration.
“I miss my family very much and […] I will also miss my best friend’s wedding in China,” said Jianjian Guo ’25, a fourth-year doctoral student in the cell biology department. “But you have to put up with it, there’s no getting around it – I just can’t take the risk.”
Yu Zhang ’25, a PhD student in the Department of Computer Science, is entering his fourth year of his PhD program while living in China. He said he had to conduct his research remotely since the summer of 2021.
Zhang is one of the students whose visa application was rejected because he attended a university involved in China’s “military-civilian fusion strategy”, although Zhang said his undergraduate degree in IT had no connection or involvement with the Chinese military.
“When I decided to go back to China, I was sure it would be lifted, but over time, I’m not so sure anymore,” Zhang said.
Zhang said he still considered himself “lucky” because he had already met his requirements for classes and teaching assistant duties in his freshman year. He also said Yale’s pandemic policies last year made it easier for him to work remotely, including meeting with his advisor and collaborating with other students.
This also means that in the past academic year, Zhang was able to continue receiving a stipend. Starting this semester, however, he is no longer allowed to enroll as a full-time student due to his visa status, so he cannot receive a stipend.
“I think I’m neither pessimistic nor optimistic about it, I feel good because my advisor is very supportive and he tries to make exceptions for me,” Zhang said. “If I keep working on my thesis, I can still receive the doctorate upon completion, so that’s something I’m grateful for.”
Zhang said her adviser allowed her to take a part-time job to help cover her expenses.
Still, Zhang expressed how much he missed the campus and lab environments, where he could talk with other students.
“Working alone at home makes it hard to find a social life,” he said. Still, he found some community in group discussions with other Chinese students.
While the Biden administration announced the resumption of regular visa services in May 2021, the Trump-era proclamation is still in place.
A third-year doctoral student in the electrical engineering department, who asked to remain anonymous due to Chinese government privacy concerns, told the News he was facing much longer processing times than before. usual when renewing his visa.
“Due to the pandemic, most U.S. consulates were closed, so many students in China didn’t have the opportunity to make an appointment until 2021,” the student said. “Most Chinese students arrived in the United States a year later [than they had intended.]”
The student was living in Canada, where he earned his undergraduate degree, throughout the pandemic. He told the News that was why he could apply for his visa renewal in 2020, since consulates in Canada reopened that year. He waited over three months for the paperwork and background checks to be completed, and still heard nothing. He suspects it was because his major was considered “sensitive” and in a military-related field and was therefore affected by the proclamation.
After checking on the internet and informing that his file may have been forgotten or on hold, the student canceled his file and made a second appointment at another consulate in December 2020, three months after the first appointment . Again, he waited five months and still heard nothing.
In the end, the student used immigration attorneys to file a Mandamus lawsuit – a petition in the United States Federal District Court to force the government to take action on the Mandamus petition. visa pending. About a month after filing the complaint, he got his visa. This method, says the student, is not easily accessible, both for financial reasons and because it is not widely publicized.
The student’s visa has since expired and he has not been able to return to China for the past two years for fear of being barred from re-entering the United States.
“I think if this situation continues, most of us will not go back. [… for] five to six years,” the student said. “I have a grandmother in China who is over 80 – I’m afraid if this continues I won’t be able to see her again.”
Guo said she hasn’t been able to return home since 2019, during the winter of her freshman year. His original visa was only valid for one year.
Guo said it was difficult to consider returning to China because once she did she would have to reapply for a visa and heard processing times were three months or more. Being potentially stuck in China would force her to halt her wet lab experiments at Yale and jeopardize the stipend she receives.
“I really miss my family and they miss me, because when the pandemic spread in the United States, they only heard stories, news and data on the number of deaths in the United States,” said Guo said. “I couldn’t tell my family [when I had COVID-19] because I know they’d be super worried and feel like there’s nothing they can do.
Following a policy change in 2018, the visa validity period for Chinese graduate students studying aviation, robotics or advanced manufacturing was shortened from five years to one year.
Guo originally came to Yale on a scholarship from the China Scholarship Council, a program that had collaborated with the Yale World Scholars Program since 2006. The partnership supported approximately 20 biological and biomedical science students each year, but after students realized that their visas would be denied if they received a CSC scholarship, the program was put on hold.
Guo expressed concerns about how the record of her scholarship, even though it has since been cancelled, could affect future visa applications.
Guo, who previously served as president of the Yale Chinese Students and Scholars Association, helped organize a listening session for Chinese graduate students to share their concerns. The Graduate School of Arts and Sciences has provided an emergency fund for students returning to China who may be forced to stay there for several months.
On the visa side, however, Guo said Yale’s hands are tied. In the first half of this year, the total number of US student visas issued to Chinese students fell by more than 50% compared to the first half of 2019.
“I would still choose to study in the United States because the research in my field here is the best in the world,” the anonymous student said. “But I see that students in Europe can go back [to China] maybe every year – with the cost of all these things, I always make research my first priority, but that’s just for me.
Guo told the News that more than half of the students surveyed ahead of the listening session expressed dissatisfaction with Yale’s handling of the Trump-era China Initiative and said it made them less likely to recommend Yale to other students.
According to a report by the Institute of International Education, Chinese students are the largest source of international students studying in the United States.