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In a joint letter with 500 students from 49 other U.S. universities, a group of Chinese international Penn students condemned a Trump executive order that affects student visas since June 2020.

Credit: Jesse Zhang

A group of Chinese international Penn students signed onto a joint letter with 500 students from 49 other U.S. universities condemning a Trump executive order that affects student visas. 

The letter, which was sent to Penn President Amy Gutmann and other Penn administrators, urged the University to join their legal process against the executive order, reach out to potential allies and appropriate authorities, as well as offer support to any impacted students. Trump’s Presidential Proclamation 10043 – P.P. 10043 – which took effect in June 2020, suspended the visas of Chinese citizens who previously studied or conducted research at Chinese universities that support Chinese military initiatives.  

In the letter, the students described how thousands of Chinese students who had already been studying in the U.S. for years were suddenly having their visas revoked, often only minutes after verifying the name of their undergraduate institution to the visa officer in China. 

Specifically, the Proclamation targets students of institutions that endorse China’s “military-civil fusion strategy," which includes the use of intellectual property and technology theft to advance China’s military capabilities. The document notes, however, that only students who are studying past the undergraduate level are affected.

In a May 27 email, President Amy Gutmann responded to the letter by affirming the University's commitment to its international students, particularly those affected by the Proclamation. 

"I was dismayed to learn of the proclamation when it was first made on May 29th, 2020, as it negatively impacts our Chinese students and scholars, and by extension, our mission as a global research university," Gutmann said.  

Many of the letter’s demands, such as Penn joining the students' legal efforts as a plaintiff, were not brought up in her statement. 

Kengpian Huang, a graduate student in Penn’s Computer and Information Technology Program and one of the letter’s signees, said that because of his undergraduate study at Nanjing University of Science and Technology, he is unable to acquire a new visa to return to the U.S. After already spending a gap year in China, he is now forced to contact Penn Engineering to extend his leave of absence. 

“We are just students who want to gain knowledge in the U.S,” Huang said. “We are not stealing. In actuality we are contributing to  the academia of the whole world, pushing technology forward.” 

The vague wording of the Proclamation gives consulate officials wide discretion to deny visa applications, according to the letter. Seven MCF-affiliated universities in China have been heavily targeted, with virtually all former undergraduate students unable to attain a visa to study in the U.S.

“A big issue is [P.P. 10043’s] blanket visa rejection, as there’s no individualized assessment being employed,” Dennis Hu, a Ph.D. student at Northeastern University, said. “What’s ironic and ridiculous is many of these students have majors in something that is far away from contributing to military application, for example in finance, business, and arts.” 

Due to P.P. 10043, Hu’s research at Northeastern has also been on hold until he can acquire a new visa. 

The Proclamation has caused many students to fear returning to China to visit family, as visa revocations can occur during the trip back home, Zhisen Hu, a graduate student studying Bioengineering at Penn, said. 

With Penn and many other universities planning on having an in-person semester in the fall, students impacted by P.P. 10043 are navigating an uncertain future. Some students are starting to consider other options, including applying to schools in countries other than the U.S where visa regulations are more favorable.

The letter has been sent not only to U.S. universities but also to political leaders and media outlets. The group is hopeful that President Joe Biden will revoke P.P. 10043 like he has revoked many of Trump’s past Presidential Proclamations. Both the AAU and ACLU have made statements recommending a repeal of the Proclamation, but the Biden Administration has remained silent on the issue. 

One of the group’s most recent endeavors is fundraising for a private or public interest lawyer to provide legal help to fight the proclamation. As of now, they have had numerous consultations with NGOs like ACLU and meetings with credentialed private lawyers, seeking someone to represent them. 

“We are trying every means to fight against it,” Hu said. 

Huang said he fears that the Proclamation, which continues to prevent hardworking Chinese students from pursuing study in the U.S., will have lasting consequences even if it is repealed. 

“Don’t create so many limitations for students who just want to study,” Huang said. “A lot of Chinese students work in the United States after graduation and get an H1-B or even a green card. This proclamation is preventing them from pursuing future life in the U.S.”