n yet more evidence that things could always be worse than they are, it has been reported that the White House considered placing a ban on Chinese nationals receiving student visas in the United States.
The plan was pushed to President Trump by who else but Stephen Miller, a White House aide infamous for his hardline views on immigration, according to a Financial Times report that cites three individuals familiar with the matter.
Miller is said to have marketed the ban on Chinese students to Trump as not just a way of combatting Chinese espionage, but also of hurting the elite universities whose students and staff have criticized and ridiculed his presidency.
The ban reportedly became a serious enough possibility that it was discussed in an “intense” Oval Office meeting in the spring of this year with US ambassador to China Terry Branstad managing to convince Trump that Miller’s proposal was “too draconian.”
At the meeting, US embassy officials argued that thanks to spending by Chinese students, most American states hold service-sector trade surpluses with China, while Branstad explained that the ban would actually do much more damage to smaller US colleges and universities than the Ivy League.
“Not everyone can go to Harvard or Princeton, right Terry?” Trump is said to have quipped. Both the White House and Branstad have declined to comment on the Financial Times story.
The Oval Office meeting came after the White House released a national security strategy document last December which included a promise to tighten visa procedures for some countries in order to “reduce economic theft by non-traditional intelligence collectors” and after FBI Director Chris Wray called Chinese students part of a ”whole of society” threat to the US during an open Senate Intelligence Committee hearing in February.
In the end, rather than opting to forbid all Chinese students from studying in the US, the White House instituted new rules in June which shortened the length of visas for Chinese graduate students studying in “sensitive” fields like robotics, aviation, and high-tech manufacturing.
The move was a controversial one with some calling it a long overdue counter to China’s use of students, researchers, and experts as spies, and others arguing that making it more difficult for some of China’s brightest minds to move to the US will only end up hurting American innovation and reducing China’s “brain drain.”
More than 350,000 Chinese nationals were enrolled at American colleges and universities last year, easily the most of any foreign country.