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Trump’s restrictions on Chinese students stifle American companies, universities and innovation

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On May 29, President Trump made a sweeping proclamation that threatens to cut off American universities from the valuable contributions that Chinese students make to our scholarly pursuits, and to jeopardize the $13 billion that they contribute to the United States economy each year.

By suspending entry of certain students and researchers from the People’s Republic of China, the White House is also stifling a flow of STEM talent that is critical to the success of American universities, as well as to companies like Amazon, Apple, Ford and IBM.  

Much remains to be understood about how this will affect the more than 350,000 Chinese students enrolled in American universities. But it has the potential for severe consequences for institutes of higher education and the economic security of the United States. It pertains specifically to the “F” and “J” type visas that allow people to visit the United States for the purposes of learning and conducting scientific research.

As a professor and the chair of the Department of Industrial and Operations Engineering at the University of Michigan, I have the opportunity to teach and work alongside students from all over the world, including many from China.

The field of industrial engineering draws talented undergraduate students from many fields including engineering, science, statistics, mathematics and economics. Like all departments in our area, we endeavor to find the top young minds from around the world and invite them to become part of our graduate programs, welcoming cohorts of students to our campus each year. They benefit from attending, and we, as a nation, benefit from their attendance in many ways.

Much like a teaching hospital, our students work alongside us in our research labs, helping advance knowledge using the technical skills they develop to make new discoveries that positively impact fields like business, energy, mobility and health care. They also work with us in the classroom, supporting our teaching of younger undergraduate students.

Research advances and teaching assistance aside, many of these students also contribute to the financial viability of higher education in the United States. Their tuition payments provide a valuable revenue stream that helps universities like ours deliver on our research and educational missions, in pursuit of the public good.  

The hard work of our international students, and the experiential learning opportunities we offer them, translate to their eventual career success in higher education and industry, academic and industrial organizations.

I work together with many of these highly successful people myself. They are now my colleagues as they have chosen to build their careers and lives in the United States. The diversity of perspectives they offer enhances organizations, making them more productive and successful.

The term of the proclamation is indefinite. It remains in place “until terminated by the President” — whether this president or the next. It will be up to those of us with the privilege to vote to make our voices heard this fall.

Brian Denton is a professor of industrial operations and engineering at the University of Michigan.

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