A Dream Shattered—Chinese Students to Sue U.S. Government for 10043 Visa Rejection

Non-official Translation, Originally Written in Chinese.

"They laugh at themselves as the dust of the times, but they are unwilling to be  forgotten as '10043 victims'"

Reporter: Xiaofeng Wang

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The U.S. consulates in China have resumed visa service for a month, which is considerable progress for Chinese students pursuing overseas study in the U.S. after the one-year lockdown. While many applicants have successfully obtained their F/J visas, this is not the case for some students studying in certain Chinese science and engineering schools. They are banned from entering the U.S. due to the Presidential Proclamation 10043 (P.P.10043) issued by former President Donald Trump. They have become the “forgotten victim of P.P.10043”.

P.P.10043 is one of the many systematic oppressions to Chinese students that the Trump administration enforces. Signed in May 2020, the proclamation aims to suspend and restrict Chinese citizens from obtaining F/J visas for graduate and above study if they studied at or affiliated with institutions that implement the “Military-Civil Fusion (MCF)” strategy.

Students affected by P.P 10043 are currently studying at or have graduated from the ‘sensitive universities’ deemed by the U.S. government. The students had thought the Biden administration would annul this unfair order, but the reality turned out to be disappointing. They are still subject to visa rejection, becoming the special “10043 students”.

Rejected, Rejected, Rejected

According to the Trump administration, when P.P.10043 was issued, the estimated number of affected people is around 3000 to 5000. However, the actual number shows that the affected are not limited to students from the “National Seven Sons” and Beijing University of Posts and Telecommunications (BUPT). “National Seven Sons” refers to a group of seven universities that are subordinate to the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, i.e., Beijing Institute of Technology, Harbin Institute of Technology, Nanjing University of Science and Technology, Harbin Engineering University, Northwestern Polytechnical University, Beihang University, and Nanjing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics.

According to 310 cases collected by rejected students, the involving institutions far beyond these eight universities. Apart from 250 rejected cases from Seven Sons and BUPT, the rejected include students/scholars from the University of Electronic Science and Technology of China, Shanghai Jiao Tong University, Xiamen University, Tongji University, and scholars funded by China Scholarship Council (32 cases). Some students studied The Middle School Attached To Northwestern Polytechnical University and the North University of China. The affected majors are not limited to science and engineering but also include liberal arts and business.

“As an art student, it’s utterly beyond my expectation that my visa application would be rejected due to P.P.10043. The staff in the visa office of my future school in the U.S. were taken aback as well. They used to say, ‘No worries. Our institution is an art school. You will not be affected. The situations get better when Biden took office.” said Xiaobei Zhang depressively.

Xiaobei Zhang, who majored in language and literature during her undergraduate and graduate study, applied for her F visa in mid-May 2021. Visa applicants with such backgrounds should have been approved smoothly. However, the visa officer claimed that her visa application needs additional administrative processing after she stated that she had studied in one of the “Seven Sons.” Three days later, she was informed by a phone call that her application was denied due to P.P.10043.

“My mind got blank. I just can’t believe what happened. We talked for minutes, and the visa officer explained resignedly, “It’s about the political environment, so it is what it is. You may apply again when things get better”. Xiaobei recalled.

Unlike Xiaobei Zhang, most cases are rejected straightly once the officers know the applicants came from targeted schools without administrative processing. The rejection letter says the denial reason is 212(f), an administrative right granted to the U.S. president. It prohibits any aliens from entering the country in the name of national security. The rejected students also received explanatory documents of P.P.10043.

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Documents of  visa rejection received by Chinese students in 2021

“I was admitted into the Rutgers University and majored in computer science. The visa official inquired about my major, school, and my parents’ occupation. After five minutes’ typing my information when the officer knew my undergraduate school, he announced that my visa was rejected and gave me a 212(f) and 10043 notice. When I saw it, I gave up explaining more.” Wen Jin, another student rejected, recalled how she was rejected at once.

Visa applicants from the eight universities are rejected in the U.S. consular offices in China and other countries. “Because of COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S. consular offices are closed in China. I flew to Cambodia for a visa application. I said I was planning to study finance major in a university in New York. I was informed I passed the visa interview. Three days after the interview, I was under administrative processing, and the only question asked was to confirm the English name of the university I studied as an undergraduate. One week later, my visa was declined, and the reason is presidential proclamation 10043,” Ziyin Li remembered.

Dr. Jiang Liu also had a similar rejection experience. He completed his undergraduate education in one of the eight universities. Liu achieved a doctorate related to material science in a renowned university in Switzerland. The Swiss government funded him for post-doc research in the U.S. Dr. Liu once had the experience of administrative processing when he applied for U.S. visas. This time, however, he was rejected directly under the P.P.10043. The visa official suggested that he pay attention to the incoming president’s election. The police may change if Trump leaves office.

The ban targeting these eight institutions knows no blind spots. Visa applicants got rejected at different consular for different purposes. Scholars and their spouses also failed to apply for J2/F2 visas for a family reunion.

Jianye Li wanted to go to California to visit his wife. She is a visiting scholar at a cancer research institute. They haven’t seen each other for more than a year because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Within two minutes of his visa interview in May 2021, he was rejected because he had studied a sensitive major at one of the eight universities. In his view, so long as the policy exists, it is impossible to reunite with his wife in the U.S.

The hurts from the uncertainty

A group of affected students have united and wrote a joint letter to U.S. universities, intending to raise public awareness on this issue. Some universities in the United States have also lobbied Washington to end P.P.10043 as soon as possible. Wendy Wolford, Cornell’s Vice Provost for International Affairs, sent a letter on behalf of the university to Secretary of State Blinken, affirming the restoration of the visa service by the State Department. “I am concerned that consular officials are interpreting policies unevenly and unpredictably that is creating tremendous uncertainty and confusion for international students and their U.S. universities. “ Ms. Wolford said.

Ms. Wolford suggested that the exact implementation of P.P.10043 should be clarified instead of hindering qualified students from studying in the U.S.”Unless the Department narrows the entities included in Presidential Proclamation 10043, consular officials may implement the previous administration’s guidance in ways that are capricious, unclear, and excessive.” add Ms. Wolford. Chinese students strongly disagree with the arbitrary visa assessment process. From their points of view, it is irrational to make a causal relationship between their education experience in a list of schools and the argument that their entry to the U.S. will be detrimental to the security interests of the U.S. It reflects that the ones who issued this proclamation may not know how science fields function.

“This proclamation hurts many people. It is common in the same research team that each member may have different funding resources, research topics, and network connections. P.P.10043 preassumes that everyone in a research team is detrimental to the U.S. national interests. Each student in a certain university has potential risks.” Dr. Liu argues, “if we follow the logic of P.P.10043, it is reasonable to believe that everyone in American universities is related to the American army because a lot of prestigious laboratories in American universities are funded by American military institutions. It is ridiculous.”

“P.P.10043 is blatant discrimination. Once you studied or worked in a specific institution, your visa will be rejected. This policy has no difference from the previous race discrimination in the history.” Dr. Liu said.

The journalist in Caijing wrote to the U.S. consular office in China inquiring about the visa decline cases by P.P.10043. The respondent in U.S. consular did not respond directly to the question but only explained the cased rejected of 243(d).

Everyone is struggling, but the P.P. 10043 can not be canceled in a day. Many Chinese students find it hard to keep positive.

Han Zhang feels the same way too. Her undergraduate and graduate schools are among the eight universities, making it impossible to get a visa. Speaking of it, she felt heartbroken,” It’s really hard for me to get a a peography Ph.D. position in the U.S, and it’ll be harder to get one in other countries. If the offer expires, all my efforts are in vain. What even makes me sadder is that my family is not well off. I worked as a part-time tutor before I finally managed to pay more than 10 thousand Yuan all by myself –the application fees, language test, and other costs. Ten thousand may be a snap for somebody, but for me, it is a vast amount.”

Similar to Han Zhang, visa rejection puts students in a dilemma. Many of them have already deferred their study, or they have studies remotely for one year. They cannot resume study if they failed to get a visa and can’t bear it if they have to quit halfway. Some of them may lose the scholarship because much scientific research needs laboratory work on site. For the students who are admitted in 2021, the situation is still gloomy. They can defer their programs to the following year, but nobody could say whether the situation will be better.

Hua Kang was admitted to a Ph.D. program in management by a well-known private university in California. Applying to a Ph.D. program in a business school is always competitive. In most cases, only one spot available each year. For this program, she has prepared herself for many years and worked as a research assistant after her master’s study. Hua Kang was admitted in 2020 and deferred the commence to the next year because of COVID-19. In May 2021, she was rejected twice in visa interviews because she previously studied in eight universities.

If P.P.10043 is not revoked, Hua Kang will be left no choice but to apply for a Ph.D. program in other countries, which means that everything must start over and all hard work wasted. “I used to believe America is a place that values justice and fairness. You work hard, and you get what you want. It turns out my expectation was wrong. Now, as I see it, America is unreasonable.” Hua Kang said.

Refuse to be forgotten.

Shared misfortunes connected a group of “10043 students”. A WeChat group named “Stay positive through PP10043” was set up. Late until 2 am, students who got rejected and prepared to have interviews still share everything related to the visa policies in the chatting group. Any spark of improvements of the Sino-Us relationship can quickly light up their hope, wishing that good news soon come and put an end to their misfortunes. “How I wish that I woke up the next morning and found 10043 had got revoked.” Lei Wang, the organizer of this Wechat group, was admitted to a Ph.D. program in computer science by a famous public university in California. The existence of 10043 dissuaded him from applying for his visa at this moment. Graduated from one of the eight universities, he does not believe there is any chance of getting a visa.

Waiting in silence will never change the fact. Lei Wang and other 20 Chinese students initiated “Academics No Borders” in May 2021. They registered on different social media platforms such as Weibo and WeChat to draw public attention. They also established an English website at 10043.org for the sake of foreign viewers. At the same time, they plan to challenge this unfair policy through a lawsuit. As they wrote in the poster, “Now the proclamation restricts students from the eight universities and Chinese Scholarship Council. Who knows it will not hurt more people in the future? Today the affected students are from STEM majors. Who knows it will not be every Chinese student in the future? Today’s silence is the permit of tomorrow’s discrimination.”

‘If this discriminative policy is not stopped, it will give more tolerance for the U.S. government to set up more unfair policies. If we don’t seek legal solutions against this policy, P.P. 10043 be an excellent excuse to suppress Chinese students. It can be expanded at any time and prevent more students from studying in the U.S.’ Lei Wang said.

The first step of filing a lawsuit in the U.S. is to fundraise money and hire a lawyer. Lei Wang and his team have been in contact with several U.S. lawyers over the past few weeks. They currently settled on Ira Kurzban, a prominent U.S. attorney in civil rights and immigration, to represent them. Mr.Kurzban has litigated more than 50 federal cases concerning the rights of foreigners, which he has defended before the U.S. Supreme Court.

When the journalist in Caijing wrote to Kurzban, he expressed his interest in the case and has already discussed the matter with the Chinese students, but it is not a good time to reveal the details or discuss the chance of winning.

Previous cases have shown that similar cases cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to litigate. Take the example of Feng Tao, a former professor at Kansas University who had a lawsuit against the U.S. government. The entire cost of the suitcase added up to $750,000 in total. Lei Wang and his team are sending questionnaires to survey students’ litigation intentions and the cost they can afford. So far, they have received 810 questionnaires, and around 600 people reported that they are willing to pay $300 to $500 to support this lawsuit. They hope more international students will support this campaign.

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Survey initiated by students affected by Proclamation 10043

In addition to fundraising, Lei Wang and his team are also seeking suitable plaintiffs. According to U.S. legal practice, the most suitable plaintiffs under this circumstance are Chinese students whose visas have been canceled in the U.S. Based on the statistical data from the U.S. government, as of September 2020, P.P10043 had already revoked more than 1,000 Chinese students/scholars’ visas in the United States. Now, this number has far exceeded 1,000. Searching for such plaintiffs is never easy; some of them are even reluctant to be interviewed.

“These people who have had their visas revoked in the U.S. are less willing to take part in this lawsuit because they can still study or work in America. They just can’t go back to visit their families and re-enter the U.S. Litigation seems a little risky for them.” said Lin Li, one of more than 1000 cases of visa revocation.

Lin attended a sensitive university (not one of the eight universities) for his undergraduate studies and then went to the U.S. for graduate school. In an email sent by the U.S. Embassy last September while he was in the U.S., he was informed that his visa got revoked. Later, he found that many Chinese students had had their visas revoked. These students’ institutions are not limited to the eight institutions.

As one of the Chinese students whose visas were revoked in the same batch, Zheng Zheng, a master’s student in environmental studies in the U.S., has returned to China in June 2020 during the pandemic. Three months later, he received the U.S. Embassy’s email announcing his visa had been revoked under INA 221(i) (the legal basis for revocation of U.S. visas as stated in Order 10043). The reason for this revocation is that he was found ineligible for a U.S. visa after the visa was issued, and he needs to reapply to re-enter the United States.

“I wrote a long letter to the U.S. Embassy explaining that environmental engineering is a non-sensitive field, but that was useless. I received no response. I have not yet to speak to my advisor about this, and a student in our lab also has had his visa canceled just like me. The difference is that he can continue his studies in America, but I can’t return to the U.S. to continue my Ph.D. study this fall without obtaining a new visa.” Zheng said resignedly, “P.P. 10043 has hurt too many students and completely disrupted our life plans.”

Although the chance of success is slim, Zheng had no choice but to reapply for his visa. “If it doesn’t work out, I may defer to the next year. After all, this Ph.D. position is very hard to get. If the worse becomes the worst, I can only ‘jump out of the train’ (apply for Ph.D. programs in other countries and regions). I also consider a lawsuit, but one person’s power is too insignificant. If more people join this attempt, I may have a try.” Zheng said.

As the uncertain future of “10043 students” dreaming of studying in the U.S., Lei Wang is also uncertain about whether they can gather sufficient funds, suitable plaintiffs, and get well prepared for the litigation. What he and his team can do is just do their best to push forward. He is clear that the road of litigation is full of difficulties, but he will not give up halfway. He has a very cohesive team, and everyone knows the meaning of “united we stand, divided we fall.”

“Some people might talk me out of it, but I would say the current situation is so dire that if we don’t go to litigation to fight with this discriminatory policy, no one will help us, even if it will take a long time.” Lei Wang said, “My biggest concern is that when the attention of P.P 10043 fades away, we will be left as forgotten victims.”