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Academics and research should be a two-way street

By Chang Jun | China Daily USA | Updated: 2018-08-09 01:59

It's no big news that US President Donald Trump is adamant about pushing forward his "America First" policy. When it comes to retaining talent, he is consistent too.

Amidst one after another "espionage and spying" accusations and allegations against Chinese students and scholars on American campus, his administration in May confirmed plans to shorten the validity of visas issued to Chinese graduate students, scholars and managers working in high-tech fields, including robotics and aviation, setting new hurdles for their stays in the US.

Possibly Trump is oblivious to America's history as a melting pot, and chooses to forget about what has made the nation the world's superpower, and especially the contributions immigrants have made.

According to the American Immigrants Council, the US was built, in part, by immigrants, and the nation has long been the beneficiary of the new energy and ingenuity that immigrants bring.

"Today, over 13 percent of the nation's residents are foreign-born, almost half of whom are naturalized citizens. Nearly 72 percent of all immigrants, who come from diverse backgrounds across the globe, report speaking English well or very well," said the council.

In higher education, the US has long been the world's leading destination for international students. According to the Institute of International Education, over 1 million foreign students are studying in the US and China ranked first in number. In 2017, the Chinese mainland sent 112,817 F-1-visa students to accredited US universities, more than double the number from the second-highest-ranking country, India.

However, Trump's stricter educational policy has yielded negative results. Based on a recent survey of 250 US institutions conducted by the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers, 25 percent reported declines in applications from Chinese undergraduate students and 32 percent saw declines from Chinese graduate students.

The most frequently noted concerns, according to the survey, were increased denials of student visas and a more hostile US climate.

"I don't think science and technology should have boundaries," said Feifei Li, a leading artificial intelligence scientist who said she is proud of her Chinese-American identity.

"Academic research findings are of no boundaries," she said at the annual conference of the Committee of 100 in May. "Instead of picking on China as an enemy, the US government should invest more heavily in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, the basic sciences."

China seems to follow Li's advice closely and continues to do so. China steps up its efforts in bringing in foreign talents and offering them access to "the land of dreams."

It's not unusual that various Chinese government delegations flock to Silicon Valley, hold talent recruitment events and publicize their generous salary and perks packages.

Last week alone, I attended three job fairs of similar nature that were sponsored by three separate provincial governments - Shandong, Zhejiang and Jiangsu. All three events shared the same goal: to locate the best and brightest minds in the US and convince them to come to China.

Since China initiated in 2008 its "recruitment program of global talents", aka the "Thousand Talents Plan", many young and topnotch professionals from all over the world have joined China's efforts to advance its technology and innovation and sustain its economic growth.

From top leaders to administrative executors, China in the last decade has adopted several preferential policies and streamlined red tape to better accommodate the needs of incoming foreign talent.

"We should value people with talent, be good at identifying talent, have the foresight to employ them, be earnest to keep them, and welcome them into our ranks," said President Xi Jinping in his speech at the 19th National People's Congress in 2017.

In the last five years, the State Administration of Foreign Experts Affairs has recorded 3.3 million overseas talents entering China to serve in a wide range of industries and business sectors.

Moreover, the administration joined the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security, and the Ministry of Public Security to simplify the visa application process from multiple weeks to five days.

Other preferential policies, such as lowering the threshold for permanent residence applications, have also been applied.

The transfer of knowledge and expertise should never be one-way; in the real world it's bilateral and mutually beneficial.

Contact the writer at junechang@chinadailyusa.com.

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