Former Vice President Mike Pence on Wednesday called for President Biden to ban H-1B visas for Chinese nationals employed by U.S. tech companies amid concerns about the threats to American intellectual property and national security.
"To protect American intellectual property and national security, President Biden should immediately prohibit the issuance of H-1B visas to Chinese nationals employed by U.S. technology companies," Pence said in the 2021 B.C. Lee Lecture at The Heritage Foundation.
The H-1B visa is a temporary work visa for high-skilled workers in a specialty occupation. It has been hit by accusations of abuse and fraud for years, with critics saying it has been used by tech companies in particular to replace American middle-class workers with cheaper foreign labor and to keep wages low in general.
Those in favor of the program say it is used to attract talent to fill gaps that the domestic labor market cannot meet. There are approximately 85,000 visas awarded each year.
The Trump administration issued rules to reform the program toward the end of his administration, particularly to root out fraud and abuse. But Pence referenced the policy as part of a speech warning about the threat from the Chinese regime.
"This is not because we don’t trust Chinese visa holders – but because we don’t trust China’s communist government. We know that China often coerces its own citizens to participate in industrial espionage, and forces them to hand over trade secrets against their will," he said.
The measure was one of a number of ways in which Pence called on the U.S. to respond to the threat from China. He called for the U.S. to put further pressure on China about the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic — amid increasing evidence that the virus originated from a lab in Wuhan. Biden has requested the intelligence community report back on what it believes sparked the pandemic.
He also called for the U.S. to stop funding scientific research in China, alluding to controversies surrounding the funding of the Wuhan Institute of Virology and alleged "gain of function" research.
Pence also said Biden should increase efforts to "decouple" the U.S. economy from China, citing ownership by Chinese investment of hundreds of thousands of acres of U.S. farmland — and calling for a ban on Chinese investment of U.S. infrastructure like pipelines.
Pence claimed the debate was now settled and that "Americans of every political persuasion recognize that the Chinese regime harbors adversarial intentions toward the United States and our allies."
But he accused the Biden administration of "already rolling over for communist China."