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Senior US Diplomat Backs Foreign Students, Including Chinese

FILE - U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun speaks to the media in Seoul, South Korea, July 8, 2020.

The State Department's No. 2 diplomat expressed strong support on Wednesday for foreign students in the United States, including Chinese students, less than two weeks after the Trump administration abandoned a plan that would have barred thousands from the country.

"I strongly agree with you on the importance of these student programs," Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun told a Senate hearing, acknowledging that there had been "a little bit of turbulence" on the issue.

President Donald Trump's administration on July 14 abruptly abandoned a plan that would have forced out tens of thousands of foreign students, following widespread condemnation of the decision and pressure from universities and businesses.

The administration had announced on July 6 that international students at schools that had moved to online-only classes due to the coronavirus pandemic would have to leave the country.

Trump has made a hard line on immigration a centerpiece of his presidency and presidential campaigns.

Opponents of the plan to block the students had noted that there are more than 1 million foreign students at U.S. colleges and universities, and many schools rely on them for income because they pay full tuition.

Nearly 370,000 of the foreign students in the United States come from China, by far the largest number.Some U.S. officials have become increasingly alarmed about what they say is the security threat — focused largely on intellectual property theft — from some Chinese students.

Supporters of foreign students had also argued that U.S. universities play a crucial role in "soft power" diplomacy, nurturing what often become lifelong ties to the country.

Biegun also said, in response to questions from Democratic Senator Chris Coons, that the State Department was making visas for foreign students a high priority.