The Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Border Security and Immigration held a hearing June 6 on "Student Visa Integrity: Protecting Educational Opportunity and National Security."
ACE, along with the Association of American Universities, the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities, and the Council on Governmental Relations, submitted a statement to the subcommittee expressing that higher education seeks to be a partner in these security concerns and emphasizing the importance of international students to U.S. colleges and universities and the nation as a whole.
Chair John Cornyn (R-TX) began the hearing by referring to FBI Director Christopher Wray’s testimony earlier in the year raising security concerns with Chinese students on American campuses. Cornyn also noted the strength of the U.S. higher education system and the importance of international students and scholars to the higher education research enterprise. He said the hearing was not about restricting student visas but about understanding the security threats and possible efforts to steal intellectual property. He also said these threats are not limited to China, but also countries such as Iran that are looking to exploit the U.S. student visa program and our open academic culture.
Ranking Member Dick Durbin (D-IL) noted the recent decline in the number of international students at U.S. institutions and the corresponding increases at other countries and said this is a threat to U.S. preeminence in higher education and our national economic efforts. Durbin tied the decrease to the Trump administration’s actions around several immigration policies, including ending the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and the January 2017 travel ban.
Witnesses from the federal agencies included the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI), Department of Homeland Security, Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI), and the Department of State. The federal witnesses discussed the security threats and what their individual agencies are doing to counter these threats, and noted that the U.S. security agencies need to strengthen counter intelligence while upholding academic freedom.
The subcommittee also heard from representatives from the higher education community, including Kevin Gamache, chief research security officer at the Texas A&M University System, and Jill Welch, deputy executive director for public policy at NAFSA: Association of International Educators. Gamache raised the idea of creating an academic working group for research universities to interact with the federal security agencies to understand the threats.
During questioning of the State Department witness, Durbin asked about recent reports regarding a change in visas for Chinese graduate students in certain sensitive topic areas, primarily in the STEM fields. The State Department confirmed that there will be changes starting on June 11 but could not provide details because of the open nature of the hearing. Edward J. Ramotowski, deputy assistant secretary for visa services at the State Department, noted that this additional screening is not meant to bar any graduate students from entering the country, but it will be focused on Chinese students.
He also noted that the State Department shares the concerns about discouraging legitimate students from studying in the United States. (See ACE President Ted Mitchell's statement from May 30 regarding the reports of changes to the visa process for certain Chinese graduate students.)