More than a dozen Chinese researchers in North Texas are under orders to leave the country immediately.
The researchers worked with UNT in Denton until last week when the university suddenly cut ties with the Chinese Scholarship Council, the organization which funds the researchers. The CSC is run by China’s Education Ministry.
According to the Department of State’s website for the visitor exchange program, if sponsors terminate participation in exchange programs, visitors “will be expected to depart the United States immediately.
When UNT cut ties with the CSC last week, scholars lost their visas and were told in a letter their "access to UNT emails, servers and other materials has been terminated,” and that they should be accompanied by their host if they collect personal items from campus.
Yuheng Liang, a UNT graduate, isn’t one of the researchers but he said some of those affected are his friends.
“They cannot do anything so they’re just trying to find a flight ticket as soon as possible, sell the car and then break the apartment lease,” Liang said.
The move to terminate the relationship with the CSC comes after arrests last week of at least three Chinese researchers across the country.
The latest news from around North Texas.
A researcher at UCLA is charged with destroying a hard drive during an FBI investigation into the possible transfer of sensitive software to China.
Another researcher with the University of Virginia was allegedly caught trying to board a flight to China with a computer code “which represented the result of years of research and resources in its development by members of the University of Virginia academic community,” according to a Department of Justice press release.
A third researcher, a professor at Texas A&M University who worked with NASA for years, was arrested for making false statements and wire fraud. U.S. Attorneys allege “he willfully took steps to obscure his affiliations and collaboration with a Chinese University and at least one Chinese-owned company.”
It's unclear how or if the cases have a connection to UNT.
In a statement, the university said it ended the CSC program, "...based upon specific and credible information following detailed briefings involving federal and local law enforcement."
The Denton Police Department said it is not involved.
The FBI declined to comment but referred us to recent speeches by FBI Director Christopher Wray.
One speech titled, “The Importance of Partnerships in Responding to the Chinese Economic Espionage Threat to Academia,” was made at Texas A&M on March 4. In it, Wray said the Chinese government and the Chinese Communist Party "are willing to steal their way up the economic ladder-at our expense."
Liang said Chinese students are on edge.
“We feel it’s not very safe to study in American anymore,” Liang said.
UNT said the termination does not impact any student enrolled or studying at the university.
It said it continues to welcome between 150-200 visiting scholars from around the world, including China.