Policy Update: Senate Hearing on Student Visas and National Security

Lewis-Burke Associates LLC – June 6, 2018

On June 6, the Subcommittee on Border Security and Immigration of the Senate Committee on the Judiciary held a hearing entitled, “Student Visa Integrity: Protecting Educational Opportunity and National Security.”  The hearing focused on the potential threats international students and academics, particularly those from China, pose to national and economic security.  During the hearing, witnesses from the national security community expressed the need to balance upholding academic freedom while safeguarding against foreign actors who seek to exploit that academic freedom.

William Priestap, Assistant Director, Counterintelligence Division, of the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI), noted that adversaries no longer just rely on intelligence services to acquire research and technologies.  Other issues that were raised during the hearing included the potential need to update export control laws, a potential loophole that allows foreign students to transfer from non-sensitive to sensitive fields of study, and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) programs like Campus Sentinel and Project Shield America, which are aimed at deterring proliferation and exploitation of the student visa system.

Senators also heard from witnesses from the academic research and international education community.  Topics that were raised included conferences and listservs dedicated for campus officials engaged in sensitive research to share best practices and identify unique challenges for the academic community.  A more uniform opportunity to disseminate information about threats to the academic community was also offered as a helpful next step.  Witnesses and members also discussed how increasing research funding could help combat the competitive threats posed by countries like China who have increased their funding in research.

Of particular concern for universities, were comments made by Edward Ramotowski, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Visa Services at the U.S. Department of State, regarding a policy that would limit Chinese graduate students studying sensitive fields to one-year visas.  Mr. Ramotowski confirmed rumors that on June 11 a new policy involving additional screening instructions for Chinese graduate students will be going into effect.  Fields of study that could be subject to these restrictions include robotics, aviation and high-tech manufacturing.

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