Overseas students including Indians not allowed to return for now: China

BySutirtho Patranobis, Hindustan Times, Beijing
Mar 22, 2021 08:19 PM IST

The Chinese government’s bar on allowing foreign students to enter the country is still in place despite multiple requests to allow them to return to the country to resume in-person classes

Indian students enrolled in Chinese universities but stranded in their home country will not be allowed to return for now because of the continuing and strict restrictions it has imposed on international travel related to the Covid-19 pandemic, Beijing has told New Delhi. Instead, Beijing has suggested that Indian students stay in contact with their universities in China and follow their instructions – in effect saying that they should continue with their online studies.

This photo taken on March 21, 2021 shows university graduates attending a career fair in Wuhan, in central China's Hubei province. (Photo by STR / AFP) / China OUT (AFP)
This photo taken on March 21, 2021 shows university graduates attending a career fair in Wuhan, in central China's Hubei province. (Photo by STR / AFP) / China OUT (AFP)

In a statement issued on Monday, the Indian embassy in Beijing said the Chinese government’s bar on allowing foreign students to enter the country was still in place despite multiple requests to the Chinese ministries of foreign affairs and education to allow the students to return to the country to resume in-person classes.

The embassy also clarified that the recent visa facilitation notification for foreigners who have been administered a Chinese vaccine did not apply to students, the Indian embassy said in a statement on the situation of Indian students on Monday.

According to China’s education ministry, 4,92,185 international students from 196 countries and regions were studying in the country until the end of 2018.

According to a country-wise breakup of foreign students in China, South Korea tops this list with more than 50,000 students. It is followed by Thailand and Pakistan with over 28,000 students each studying in China. At 23,000, Indian students are the fourth largest group.

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“Chinese authorities at various levels continue to maintain their position that, on account of last year’s announcement by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs…to suspend temporarily the entry of foreigners holding valid Chinese Visa and residence permits following the outbreak of Covid-19 in many countries in the world, overseas students are temporarily unable to enter China,” the Indian embassy said.

Despite bringing the pandemic in the country under control, China continues to impose severe restrictions on incoming foreigners including a nearly-month long quarantine, and now, linking returns to travellers taking a China-made vaccine.

The academic lives of nearly 23,000 Indian students who study in China, mostly in medical universities, have been upended because of the travel barriers: There is no sign that these restrictions will be lifted any time soon.

Many Indian students had returned home in January, 2020, for Chinese New Year holidays, in the weeks ahead of the pandemic spreading in the central Chinese province of Hubei and before restrictions were placed on foreign travel; many more left in the weeks after the outbreak while some were evacuated from Wuhan, the capital of Hubei, in special flights.

They have been unable to return to China since despite pleading with Chinese authorities through its embassies, consulates, and social media channels.

It could of little solace to the stranded Indian students but Beijing has told New Delhi they are aware of the “…concerns of the students and have asked all relevant Chinese universities to maintain close contact with the students and keep them informed, besides continuing with the online courses.”

“It has also been suggested by Chinese authorities that Indian students stay in touch with their universities and pursue their studies in accordance with the suggestions and guidance of the universities,” the statement added.

Last week, the Chinese foreign ministry said academic institutions were to keep in close contact with those students abroad, make good arrangements for online courses, and properly address their legitimate concerns and appeals.

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    Sutirtho Patranobis has been in Beijing since 2012, as Hindustan Times’ China correspondent. He was previously posted in Colombo, Sri Lanka, where he covered the final phase of the civil war and its aftermath. Patranobis covered several beats including health and national politics in Delhi before being posted abroad.

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