Amid reported cases of US visa programs being used by Chinese Communist Party (CCP) members for espionage, the Trump administration has issued stricter immigration rules in an effort to limit US entry for CCP sympathizers. The new rules mean that the CCP’s 92 million members will be restricted to one-month, single entry visas.
The rules came into effect immediately and are likely to add to the tension between the two countries in recent years. Prior to the new policy, CCP members, along with other Chinese nationals, could obtain a US visit visa that was valid for up to 10 years.
However, it’s understood that the new rules will not affect a CCP member’s eligibility for other types of US visas including immigration or employment-based permits. A spokesperson for the US State Department said: “No other visas will be revoked following the policy changes.”
The latest US visa restrictions on Chinese nationals come amid an ongoing, years long spat between the two countries over several issues including trade and technology among other things.
Trump’s tightening of the rules, targeting China’s ruling elite, and the likely response from Beijing will only add another challenge for President-elect, Joe Biden, who stands to inherit the turbulent US-China relationship, which is deemed to be in its worst state since the normalization of diplomatic ties in 1979, according to a New York Times report.
The new visa policy is set to affect an estimated 270 million people, according to US government data. However, it will be difficult for the State Department to identify who CCP members are.
According to sources familiar with the new rules imposed on US visit visas, immigration officials can determine a person’s CCP membership from their US visa application and in-person interviews, plus any local understanding they have of party membership.
However, this has the potential to disproportionately affect people at the top-level of Chinese government and business leaders instead of lower-level members.
A spokesperson for the State Department described the move as “an ongoing policy, regulatory, and law-enforcement action across the US government to protect our nation from the CCP’s malign influence.”
“For decades we allowed the CCP free and unfettered access to US institutions and businesses while these same privileges were never extended freely to US citizens in China,” the spokesperson added.
It’s expected that the new US visa rules will spark an immediate retaliation from Beijing. However, travel between China and the US has already been heavily restricted amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Spokesperson for China’s Foreign Ministry, Hua Chunying, blasted the new US visa rules at a recent conference, saying: “We hope people in the United States will adopt a common rational view toward China and give up their hatred and abnormal mind-set toward the Communist Party.”
The new rules are seen as the first step toward tracking low-level CCP members attempting to systematically visit the United States. CCP members attempting to conceal their membership from US authorities while applying for a US visa are at risk of being charged with visa fraud if discovered.
Despite the severity of the new rules, the US stopped short of issuing a total ban on travel to the US by CCP members – something that was mooted by Trump in the summer.
Other US visa restrictions on China
Under the Trump administration, the US State Department has imposed numerous other US visa restrictions across various categories of Chinese citizens – including those responsible for the mass internment of Muslim ethnic minorities in the Xinjiang region, people working in the US for state-controlled Chinese news organizations and Chinese officials involved in the political crackdown in Hong Kong.
In May, it was announced that the government would be revoking the visas of graduate- or higher-level students in the US who had connections with certain Chinese military institutions.
In 2014, China and the US agreed to increase the duration of tourist and business visas issued to each other’s citizens from one to 10 years. This move came during the Obama administration following a visit to Beijing at a time when relations between the two countries were ‘warmer’.
Announcing the policy at the time, the White House highlighted the benefits that the deal would bring to the US tourism sector, trade and additional commercial ties with China.
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