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I read on bu.edu/isso:

The U.S. Department of State (“DOS”) has issued guidance to consular officers in China that could result in shorter visas for a small number of Chinese students beginning June 11, 2018. While most Chinese nationals began receiving a multiple-entry F-1 student visa for a maximum of five years beginning November 14, 2014, graduate students who are studying in major fields related to robotics, aviation, and high-tech manufacturing may, at the discretion of the consular officer, now receive a multiple entry visa for a shorter 1-year time frame.

Why did the U.S. Department of State (“DOS”) issue guidance to consular officers in China that could result in shorter visas for a small number of Chinese students beginning June 11, 2018?

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  • Ehh, it seems pretty obvious it fits with the Trump policy of preventing tech theft by the Chinese, including prosecuting professors who didn't declare funds from China etc.
    – Fizz
    Aug 8 at 9:54
  • @Fizz don't shorter visas result in more frequent trips to China, which may increase the likelihood of thefts? Also can't people communicate remotely via internet? Lastly "thefts" from students is exceedingly rare (esp. when compared to the amount of IP they create in the US). So that's not obvious to me, but maybe you're right. Aug 8 at 18:31
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    Because not granting a new visa is easier than cancelling one (something that the Trump admin also eventually did evisage nytimes.com/2020/05/28/us/politics/…) Not my DV, by the way.
    – Fizz
    Aug 8 at 18:36
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    You can read here comments by R senators on the 2018 measure. Yeah, they thought it would result in tighter scrutiny, although it's not spelled out too well how. Possibly because the "extreme vetting" would be [re]done annually.
    – Fizz
    Aug 8 at 18:43
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    @phoog PhD students typically need to attend conferences outside the US. But indeed with that some uncertainty + wait time for renewing the visa, some prefer to skip attending conferences. Aug 9 at 17:21

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An official explanation

Ramatowski, who oversees visa services for the State Department's Bureau of Consular Affairs in Washington, D.C., did provide the panel with some insight into the department's rationale for the shorter visas. He said "undergraduates present a lesser risk than graduate students or postdocs," implicitly providing the reason why the new policy applies only to those seeking advanced degrees. The State Department, he added, is already tracking graduate students at research universities who change their majors or chose a new research area after starting their training."

If that's confusing, Science though to explain if further by non-official means:

One expert likened the key visa issue to needing a ticket stub to re-enter a movie theater after going out for refreshments or a bathroom break. For foreign students, the new rules mean their "ticket" is now valid for 1 year, rather than 5 years. They can stay for the duration of their training, assuming they don't do anything to break the terms of their visa. But if they leave the "theater," they won't be readmitted if more than 1 year has elapsed since they arrived. Instead, they must go back home—or to a closer U.S. neighbor such as Canada or Mexico—and apply for a visa renewal. The process could take weeks or months. [...]

The unstated reason for the shorter visas is that the U.S. government can keep students with malevolent intentions on a shorter leash.

(And yeah some were skeptical the vetting would be much improved by that.)

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