(New York, NY) – Reporting today suggests the Trump administration will move to expel Chinese graduate students with connections to military-linked universities. That comes as two Republican senators have introduced a bill to bar Chinese nationals from obtaining visas to study STEM fields at U.S. universities. PEN America today said such moves are discriminatory.

“These proposals risk institutionalizing nationality-based discrimination, full stop,” said Jonathan Friedman, director of the Campus Free Speech Program at PEN America. “There are valid reasons to be concerned about espionage by the Chinese government in U.S. universities and beyond. We need to find ways to defend against that legitimate threat without resorting to policies that paint with too broad a brush and risk a host of negative consequences. Expelling all Chinese students with certain university affiliations, without regard to whether their work or field of study raises specific concerns, or denying Chinese students visas for STEM fields en masse, echoes dark historic trends that must not be allowed to resurge.”

These moves follow a trend of anti-immigrant orders that have been a hallmark of the Trump presidency, and anti-Chinese sentiment that has grown more extreme during the COVID-19 pandemic. PEN America previously expressed concern over reports that the State Department was considering new measures to vet and monitor applicants for student visas from China, and that the FBI was advising U.S. universities to develop protocols for monitoring students and scholars from Chinese state-affiliated research institutions. PEN America has stressed that any such measures must be based on individualized suspicion, not rooted in blanket exclusions.

“It is true that international exchange with China, a country where the government prioritizes the furtherance of its national interests over guarantees of academic freedom, poses serious challenges,” said PEN America’s Friedman. “But it also brings significant benefits to both the U.S. and China individually, and to relations and understanding between the two countries. The U.S. government cannot credibly stand against authoritarianism and uphold academic freedom while engaging in widespread expulsions based upon guilt by association, or imposing blunderbuss visa denials predicated on nationality. If there are articulable concerns about specific individuals because of their activities and affiliations, those should be pursued without regard to students’ country of origin. As they stand, these policies threaten to impede the training of new scientists and disrupt ongoing academic projects. They jeopardize the future of global scholarly exchange and are at odds with U.S. universities’ liberal and democratic values.”