The United States has revoked visas for more than 1,000 Chinese nationals under a May 29 presidential proclamation to suspend entry from China of students and researchers deemed security risks, a State Department spokeswoman said on Wednesday.
The acting head of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Chad Wolf, said earlier that Washington was blocking visas "for certain Chinese graduate students and researchers with ties to China's military fusion strategy to prevent them from stealing and otherwise appropriating sensitive research."
In a speech, Wolf repeated U.S. charges of unjust business practices and industrial espionage by China, including attempts to steal coronavirus research, and accused it of abusing student visas to exploit American academia.
Wolf said the United States was also "preventing goods produced from slave labor from entering our markets, demanding that China respect the inherent dignity of each human being," an apparent reference to alleged abuses of Muslims in China's Xinjiang region.
A State Department spokeswoman said the visa action was being taken under a proclamation President Donald Trump announced on May 29 as part of the U.S. response to China's curbs on democracy in Hong Kong.
"As of September 8, 2020, the Department has revoked more than 1,000 visas of PRC nationals who were found to be subject to Presidential Proclamation 10043 and therefore ineligible for a visa," she said.
She said the ineligible "high-risk graduate students and research scholars" represented "a small subset" of the Chinese coming to the United States to study and research and that legitimate students and scholars would continue to be welcomed.
China said in June it resolutely opposed any U.S. move to restrict Chinese students from studying in the United States and urged Washington to do more to enhance mutual exchanges and understanding.
Some 360,000 Chinese nationals study in the United States, bringing in significant revenue to U.S. colleges, although the COVID-19 pandemic has severely disrupted the return to campus this autumn semester.
China-U.S. relations have sunk to historic lows with the world's two biggest economies clashing over issues ranging from trade and human rights to Hong Kong and the coronavirus.
Trump, who had touted friendly ties with Chinese President Xi Jinping as he sought to make good on promises to rebalance a massive trade deficit, has made getting tough on China a key part of his campaign for re-election on Nov. 3. He has accused his Democratic opponent, Joe Biden, who leads in national opinion polls, of being soft toward Beijing.
Earlier, some Chinese students enrolled in U.S. universities said they received emailed notices on Wednesday from the U.S. Embassy in Beijing or U.S. consulates in China informing them their visas had been canceled.
Over 60 students holding F-1 visas including postgraduates and undergraduates said in a WeChat chatroom that the notices stated they would have to apply for new visas if they wanted to travel to the United States.
Many in the chatroom said they were majoring in subjects such as science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Some said they were postgraduates who obtained bachelor's degrees at Chinese universities with links to the People's Liberation Army.
A final year undergraduate student at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign was shocked to have received the notice.
The only reason he could think of would be his previous experience at the Beijing University of Posts and Telecommunications (BUPT), a Chinese university known for its defence and security technology research.
"I studied at BUPT before year two, but I have no connections with that university since," he told Reuters, declining to be identified due to the sensitivity of the matter.
In May, sources with knowledge of the matter told Reuters that Washington was planning to cancel the visas of thousands of Chinese graduate students believed to have links to China's military.