Trump administration’s trade causes concern for UT Chinese international students

Hayden Baggett

After the Trump administration enacted restrictions on visas for Chinese students in June, it’s still too soon to tell how Chinese international students at UT will be affected.

The restrictions, which are intended to curb Chinese technological competition and intellectual theft, limit the duration of visas issued to some graduate Chinese students in STEM fields. This act, which is part of the broader trade war between the United States and China, is seen by many as a preliminary step to a process of limiting Chinese international students’ access to American universities.

“Should the U.S.-Chinese relationship continue to deteriorate and move toward outright security competition, inevitably there will be more limits on the educational exchange,” said Brad Setser, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, a nonprofit focusing on U.S. foreign policy.

Last school year, UT had 1,411 international students from China, according to data from the International Students and Scholars Services. This number is roughly a quarter of UT’s total international student population.

In the U.S., where 35 percent of all international Chinese students major in STEM, the growing dispute between the two nations is already beginning to burden colleges, according to the Institute of International Education.

“The flow of Chinese students in the U.S. has been an important source of revenue and innovation for many institutions, and those institutions certainly should be worried,” Setser said.

If matters escalate, Setser said the Chinese government also has the option of preventing their students from studying in the United States.

Stressing that this threat is unlikely to materialize, foreign affairs professor Joshua Eisenman said he doubts economic tension will continue to spill over into the two countries’ educational relationship.

“I don’t see the Chinese government doing that,” Eisenman said. “The United States has the best universities in the world, so to cut yourself off from that would be very foolish.” 

He added that limiting Chinese international students would also hurt American higher education. A sudden severance of these students, Eisenman said, would harm some universities economically due to lost tuition income.

A study by the Association of International Educators found all international students at UT contributed 3,540 jobs and $231.7 million to the local economy in 2016.

But any sign of losing a fraction of this resource has not yet come to the attention of UT’s International Office, said Fiona Mazurenko, marketing manager for UT’s International Office.

“We deeply value our international students and scholars,” Mazurenko said. “We advocate for them and closely monitor changes in policy that might affect them. But we do not have any information regarding the impact of the tariffs.”

Accounting junior Zijie Pang was issued a five-year student visa in 2016. She said it would be a mistake for hostilities to turn into more restrictions on Chinese students.

Pang said if visas were to be limited there would be no Chinese alumni in the future. 

“In this perspective, even China welcomes more diversity than the U.S. does,” Pang said.