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Cotton, GOP bill would block Chinese military-linked people from getting US visas

U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) Jan. 8, 2020. (Stefani Reynolds/CNP/Zuma Press/TNS)
June 17, 2021

On Thursday, Sens. Tom Cotton (R-AR), Ted Cruz (R-TX), Marco Rubio (R-FL), Tommy Tuberville (R-AL), Josh Hawley (R-MO), Chuck Grassley (R-IA), and Mike Braun (R-IN) introduced new legislation to prevent people linked to China’s military from receiving student or research visas to the United States.

In a press statement, the lawmakers said the bill, called the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Visa Security Act, would “prohibit individuals currently or previously employed or sponsored by Chinese military institutions from receiving student or research visas to the United States.”

The draft legislation, prepared by Cotton, states once it’s enacted, the U.S. president would have to publish an annual list of research, engineering, and scientific institutions determined to be “affiliated with, or funded by, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army.” The legislation states the U.S. secretaries of State and Homeland Security must not admit “any alien who is, or has previously been, employed, sponsored, or funded by any entity identified on the most recently published list.”

“Allowing members of the People’s Liberation Army unfettered access to research visas is an open invitation to steal American research, ingenuity, and intellectual property,” Cotton said. “The United States shouldn’t be arming our greatest adversary—our bill will block Chinese military affiliated people from receiving student and research visas to the United States.”

The legislation comes as multiple Chinese and China-linked researchers have been arrested and charged in recent years with stealing intellectual property from U.S. research institutions, as well as lying about their ties with China.

Cruz said the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) exploits the U.S. visa system to infiltrate American institutions at every level “to exploit research projects to access sensitive data and technology.”

Cruz said, “The PLA Visa Security Act provides an additional screening layer to ensure applicants are not affiliated with the Chinese military. I am proud to again join Sen. Cotton on this important bill.”

Rubio, who serves as the Vice Chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said, “It is in our national security interest to ensure the CCP isn’t taking advantage of our open system to steal American intellectual property.”

The bill would create exemptions if it is necessary for an individual linked to China’s PLA to be permitted U.S. entry to comply with the United Nations Headquarters agreement or other diplomatic obligations. The legislation also permits the president to grant a waiver, if they notify Congress in writing and a waiver serves U.S. national interests.

Tuberville said, “Without a hardline approach to safeguard our research, Chinese military institutions will continue to steal our intellectual property for their own benefit.”

Hawley said, “We must secure American research and development against the Chinese Communist Party and their military.”

Grassley said, “This bill ensures that visa applicants are thoroughly vetted and Chinese nationals affiliated with the People’s Liberation Army aren’t granted access to our most sensitive research and intellectual property.”

Braun said, “I’m proud to join Senator Cotton to stop the U.S. from arming China’s People’s Liberation Army with American innovation.”

In their press statement, the seven Republican Senators said their legislation has the endorsement of President Joe Biden’s current NSC Senior Director for International Economics and Competitiveness Peter Harrell, NSC Senior Director for China Rush Doshi, Assistant Secretary of Defense for the Indo-Pacific nominee Ely Ratner, DoD Director of Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation nominee Susanna Blume, and to serve as Assistance Secretary for Terrorist Financing nominee Elizabeth Rosenberg.