Wikimedia Commons

The Biden administration’s policies toward China are unlikely to change the situation for Yale students in China struggling to obtain a visa to study in the United States, according to two experts on U.S.-China relations who spoke with the News. 

Professors Arne Westad and Stephen Roach both expressed a pessimistic view of the short-term future of the relationship between the United States and China, suggesting that it is unlikely that the dynamic shifts significantly enough before September to allow Yale students in China to secure visas with ease. This concern over the short-term future has driven some undergraduate students in China to travel to a third country in order to obtain those visas. Despite these difficulties, the University does not plan to provide financial support to those students.

“Right now the U.S.-China relationship has gone from bad to worse,” Roach said. “The bottom line is that the tensions which were tough over the last four years have gotten tougher, and it’s starting to feel like a full-blown Cold War.”

Westad explained the implications of the “tough on China” stance that the Biden administration is taking, saying that he sees it as “unlikely at this point” that the dynamic shifts enough by the summer to enable students to obtain visas to come from China to New Haven, at least through straightforward routes.

Pericles Lewis, vice president for global strategy, said that the University is still hoping that it is possible for Chinese students to come to New Haven in the fall. 

“We have represented to the State Department and to other government leaders that we hope they will expedite this, but it is certainly possible that people will get delayed,” Lewis said.

However, in a separate email to the News, Lewis also wrote that no extra financial aid is available for students who opt to apply for visas by traveling outside of their home countries to other places — places where the process is notably easier.

In Roach’s view, there is an abundance of “low-hanging fruit” that the United States could grasp to improve the relationship, from reopening embassies to working together within the World Health Organization. However, there is no political impetus in the Congress to improve the relationship: A strong anti-China stance has become a rare issue of bipartisan support, he said.

Westad added that some of Biden’s policies do not significantly differ from those of Trump. He described Biden as a “hard-liner” on China, especially on human rights issues.

Still, while the policies are unlikely to change, the means by which the Americans are engaging with China have changed dramatically under Biden, Westad explained. This is characterized primarily by a desire to work with allies — mostly in East Asia — in order to push back against China, as well as by a willingness to engage on the issue of climate change. The latter of which the Trump administration was not willing to do, according to Westad. 

Westad and Roach agreed that part of the reason that student visas have become a point of contention between the U.S. and China is a baseless fear that Chinese students in America function as spies for the Chinese government.

This increased tension between the United States and China is having a tangible impact on Yale students in China who, as a result of United States policy, have been unable to come to New Haven since the beginning of the pandemic.

Tony Wang ’24 and Amy Tang ’24 both spoke to the News about their experience of virtual instruction from China, which is currently 12 hours ahead of Eastern time. Wang begins classes at 9 p.m., and prior to this, he works at his old high school. When not in class or helping in school, Wang, like other Yale students in China, is desperately trying to secure a student visa to come to New Haven.

Although some asynchronous instruction has made life easier for students 12 hours ahead in China, Wang expressed the difficulty of having to balance his college experience, which is made up almost solely by Zoom classes, and a “real life” with the people he is living with and his community.

The visa process has been nothing short of a mess for Wang and Tang, both of whom described a process that resembles the rush for concert tickets. According to Wang, the embassy in Beijing opens up around 200 slots for visa interview appointments at varying times online, but after 10 minutes, all the appointments are typically taken. However, he described how around five or 10 days before the interview is set to take place, the embassy frequently cancels the appointments. Tang described a similar experience. 

Given the improbability of improved U.S.-China relations, both Wang and Tang, along with a handful of their peers, are planning on going to Singapore and applying for their visas there. However, given COVID-19 restrictions, they would be forced to spend 14 days in quarantine in Singapore before being able to apply for the visa, adding time and financial costs to the process.

The Singapore option described by Wang and Tang, however, is therefore a question of access and cost. Both of them are planning on paying for their own plane tickets and hotel stays for two weeks in Singapore, with no stipend or financial support from the University.

Still, Wang and Tang described a lack of support from the University in helping them secure their visas.

“I haven’t received any email from Yale talking to me or Chinese students facing the visa problem,” said Wang. 

Tang also described a lack of outreach from the University, but recognized the limited power that the Yale administration has in actually helping students get a visa. 

Lewis said that students who are unable to come to New Haven by the fall semester, especially those in Yale College, should consider taking a gap year.

Yale’s relationship with China began in 1835 when Yale alum Peter Parker, class of 1831 and School of Medicine class of 1834, established the first Western-style hospital, the Ophthalmic Hospital, in Guangzhou.

Philip Mousavizadeh covers the Jackson Institute. He is a first year student in Trumbull College studying Ethics, Politics, and Economics