America Losing Tech Race to China with New Visa Policy

Trump’s New Visa Policy Closes the Door on Highly-Educated Scientists

Incoming Visa Restrictions on Chinese Scientists

Trump administration will deploy a visa restriction on targeted foreign STEM students as early as this week. Back in December 2017, the administration released “National Security Strategy of the United States of America,” which stated,

Every year, competitors such as China steal U.S. intellectual property valued at hundreds of billions of dollars. Stealing proprietary technology and early-stage ideas allows competitors to unfairly tap into the innovation of free societies…
The United States will review visa procedures to reduce economic theft by non-traditional intelligence collectors. We will consider restrictions on foreign STEM students from designated countries to ensure that intellectual property is not transferred to our competitors, while acknowledging the importance of recruiting the most advanced technical workforce to the United States.

In short, the new visa policy will reduce the stay of foreign scientists – Chinese in particular – to one year for the purpose of protecting American intellectual property. In addition, those who work in high technology would require special clearance from the American government.

Supposedly, Trump’s anti-China policy making serves to prevent China from catching up in Science, Technology, and Innovation, especially now with Chinese government’s Made-In-China 2025, a tech-focused national development, in plan.

The Global Innovation Index (GII) ranks China at 43rd, compared to 11th for America in 2010; in 2018, merely 8 years later, China is ranked 19th compared to America who is still placed at 11th, as suggested by Bloomberg‘s recent report. From this, we can see that China is closing the gap very rapidly.

China Bleeding Talents to the U.S.

When it comes to skilled labors in the high tech industry, for past decades, one of China’s biggest problems has always been the bleeding of highly skilled native talents to foreign countries. Globally speaking, America attracts the highest amount of foreign-born Ph.D. students, a group that makes up the driving force behind tech development and innovation.

According to research done by Kauffman Foundation, the majority of US Ph.D. recipients will be aliens on temporary visas by 2020. U.S. National Science Foundation reports that (2005 – 2015) Chinese students comprise an overwhelming majority of foreign doctorate recipients in America with nearly 50,000 recipients. The report also highlights an 87% stay rate for Chinese Ph.D. students. These STEM Ph.D.s would typically pursue academic, research, or business careers in America. Similar data has also been reported by South China Morning Post, stating that 80% of Chinese Ph.D. graduates end up working and staying in the U.S.

percentage of foreign phd staying in US
U.S. National Science Foundation

On the other end, the Chinese government has been trying, rather desperately in fact, to get these talents back. In 2008, the Chinese government introduced a Thousand Talents Program amongst other similar incentivizing programs. Intensive benefits have been offered for home-coming talents such as high salaries, professorship, generous funds and tax benefits just to name a few. Quite literally, China is begging for talents to stay and build their own country.

The Impact of New Visa Policy

An immediate effect of the visa restriction is that it would further discourage Chinese scientists from pursuing careers in America. In fact, Trump’s new visa policy plays right into Beijing’s favor – drawing talents home.

overseas Chinese returning home

Official government statistics show that 339,700 Chinese students went abroad during 2011, with 186,200 overseas graduates returning to China that same year. In 2016, 544,500 Chinese students went abroad while 432,500 returned from overseas study. In other words, the number of returning students, as a proportion of outbound students in each year, increased from 55% in 2011 to nearly 80% in 2016 (ICEF).

I’d like to sum up with what Yangyang Cheng had stated in a heartfelt article – Don’t Close the Door on Chinese Scientists Like Me. As a Chicago University graduate, Cornell University post-doc, particle-accelerator physicist who identifies as a Chicagoan and has worked in the U.S. for 9 years, Cheng wrote:

“The United States cannot seek to win a tech race against China by compromising its own liberal democratic ideals. Restricting Chinese scientists’ work at U.S. institutions based on nothing more than one’s citizenship or country of origin will be a self-inflicted wound, hurting not only the country’s values but also the pool of talent it can draw upon.”