US-China Fulbright restrictions deal a new blow to student mobility under Trump administration

Fulbright is the flagship international educational exchange program sponsored by the US government, and the China-Fulbright program was designed to increase mutual understanding between the people of the US and of China.

“The administration will continue to limit the ways that US higher education extends itself internationally”

However, buried within an executive order issued on July 14, president Trump explained that administration would be taking steps to terminate the program with regard to future exchanges for participants travelling both from and to China or Hong Kong.

The order comes as a result of what Trump called China’s “oppressive actions” including enacting a controversial new national security law for Hong Kong and revokes US special treatment for Hong Kong passport holders over those in the People’s Republic of China.

More than 380,000 “Fulbrighters” from over 160 countries have participated in the program since its inception, however, the latest records show the combined number of US and international participant grantees in 2017 totalled just 175 for the China program and 19 for Hong Kong.

According to media reports, the program has operated for 17 years in Hong Kong. In the 2019-2020 program, 10 scholars were chosen to undertake research in the US for four to 10 months in arts, humanities and social sciences.

Fulbright alumni, supporters and educators have since taken to social media to express dismay at the administration’s “terrible mistake”, touting it as one that will hurt scholars on both sides of the Pacific who are part of the future of US-China relations.

“On the same day the ICE rule was eliminated, it was announced that the Fulbright program will no longer involve China and Hong Kong,” professor at the University of Arizona’s Center for the Study of Higher Education, Jenny J. Lee, told The PIE News.

“The administration will continue to limit the ways that US higher education extends itself internationally.”

The cancellation of the Fulbright program in China and Hong Kong is yet another blow to the US international education sector, compounded by travel bans, visa suspensions and the phased reopening of US visa services abroad that could see prospective international students struggle to get an appointment in time for the fall semester.

The latest FAQ update from ICE following the announcement that it had rescinded the July 6 policy directive requiring international students to take some in-person classes to remain in the country has also left questions several questions unanswered.

“If initial students have not arrived in the United States, they should remain in their home country,” the updated FAQ states, which Miriam Feldblum, executive director of the Presidents’ Alliance on Higher Education and Immigration, suggested hasn’t “really addressed what new students can do in a way that matches reality”.

Meanwhile, Canada has announced plans to make it easier for international students beginning a new program online this fall, including fast-tracking study permit processing and introducing a temporary two-stage process for international students who cannot submit all of the required documentation.

In a statement, Canada’s minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, Marco E. L. Mendicino said the pandemic has had a significant impact on international students and the Canadian institutions and communities that host them.

“This is why we’re making every effort to minimise how current challenges affect their plans and dreams for the future,” he added.

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