US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced Friday that the US Department of State would place new visa restrictions on Chinese Communist Party officials and others participating in propaganda or influence campaigns affiliated with the Party’s United Front Work Department.
The United Front Work Department is a department within the party that reports to the Central Committee and engages in projecting influence at home and abroad. According to the Jamestown Foundation, a US based policy group that studies countries like China, the organization is considered crucial within the party because of its early work in the Chinese Civil War and more recent efforts to control dissent. According to the State Department, the Department has pressured outside groups that have criticized China’s potential human rights abuses in Xinjiang, Tibet, and elsewhere. The new visa restrictions deny US visas to applicants that have engaged in violence, threats, or other forms of intimidation against overseas Chinese communities, academics, or other organizations.
It is not immediately clear how the new visa restrictions will affect travel by Chinese citizens to the United States, as the Department of State’s press release does not identify any specific individuals or prior actions by the United Front Work Departments that will subject a person to the restrictions.
The new restrictions follow other visa restrictions for Chinese party officials, including restrictions issued in November which reduced the visa length from ten years to one month. For nearly all business or other travel, this would require a new visa for every visit to the US. However, party membership is not an analog for active participation within the Chinese government. Many public sector jobs require membership, and only 8.4 percent of party members are employed by the party or government organizations.
Chinese officials have criticized these visa restrictions, calling them counterproductive towards the already strained Chinese-American relationship.