China’s foreign students beg Beijing to allow them to return to the country to resume university study

·5-min read

Foreign students stranded by the pandemic are appealing to the Chinese government to grant them visas so that they can return to the country to continue their university studies.

China still does not grant visas to international students except those from South Korea after the two countries signed an agreement reinstating visas in July last year.

“We are really stressed. We don’t know when they will call us back,” said a third-year Indian student at Ningbo University, who asked to be identified by his surname Ephrem for fear of offending Chinese authorities.

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“Please help us. We will accept all the Covid-19 protocols of the Chinese government,” he said. “I am not saying anything against the Chinese government. It’s a humble request to accept us.”

Ephrem, who is studying for a Bachelor of Medicine & Bachelor of Surgery degree, said he has been living in India ever since he left China in January 2020 for winter holiday. He has called both the university and the Chinese embassy in New Delhi repeatedly, but still has no indication of when he will be allowed to return to China.

An unknown number of foreign students have been unable to return to the country since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic. Photo: Getty
An unknown number of foreign students have been unable to return to the country since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic. Photo: Getty

China’s Ministry of Education’s latest statistics showed that 442,773 foreign students studied in universities across the mainland in 2016, with the top five countries in terms of student source being South Korea, United States, Thailand, Pakistan and India. However, it is unclear how many were caught outside the country when the pandemic struck. Ningbo University’s student affairs department told the South China Morning Post that only the foreign ministry had this authority to allow students to return to China.

China’s foreign ministry said it was aware of the issue of foreign students’ being unable to return to the country.

“We will plan for foreign students’ return and class resumption issues on the condition of preventing the epidemic safely,” the foreign ministry told the Post on Monday. “In the meantime, the Chinese government will make and implement epidemic prevention measures according to the development of the pandemic and on the basis of scientific analysis,” said the ministry.

Ephrem said he and other foreign students have been conducting campaigns on Twitter with the hashtag of #takeusbacktoChina in the past few months.

Many students have tried to continue their studies online but said the lack of practical experience made their degrees almost useless. Photo: Getty
Many students have tried to continue their studies online but said the lack of practical experience made their degrees almost useless. Photo: Getty

Ephrem said he took online classes last semester, but has suspended his course for the new semester starting from this month. All 58 of his Indian classmates have also suspended their participation in the course.

“We study medicine and we need a lot of practical training,” he said. “We are afraid the Indian government won’t accept the online classes. If it won’t, what can we do? Our future is being ruined.”

The Indian student said he chose to study in China because compared with his own country, studying medicine in China is cheaper while he can also get more exposure to international methods.

“We came to China with lots of hope and excitement. But now we have lost hope. Some of us even think ‘will they call us back?’” he said.

Pakistani student Amish Ghafoor shares the same frustration as Ephrem. The 21-year-old medical student from Wuhan University has been staying in his own country since the end of 2019 when he left China for a holiday.

He said he has contacted the Chinese embassy in Islamabad more than 10 times, which only told him “ask your university”.

“Our university said: ‘we don’t know anything but it depends upon our government.’ The Chinese government said ‘wait for further notice’. This cycle has been repeating for the past 20 months,” said Ghafoor.

“The problem is that China is not listening to any students even though we have been vaccinated in the past three months and we are ready to pay for the 21 or 28 days’ quarantine.

“Don’t destroy our future because of the fear that we are carrying the virus. Students are not the virus,” said Ghafoor.

For the past three semesters he attended online classes which he thought were “useless” due to lack of communication, poor internet connections and time difference between China and Pakistan.

“I hope we can return soon. We don’t want to grow a hate tree. We are not anti-Chinese and we love China because Pakistan and China are good friends,” said Ghafoor. “But China has allowed businessmen, workers, and athletes to come to the country, why doesn’t it allow 7,000 Pakistani students [who are still stuck in our country]?”

An Egyptian student identified only by his surname William said he was aware of at least 50 Egyptian students stranded in the country, but believed the actual number was far higher.

The undergraduate student of Electrical Engineering in Henan Normal University flew to his home country in January, 2020.

William has been studying online for the past one and a half years. He is expected to graduate in September next year, however, he doesn’t see a bright future after graduation.

“The reason is that I will just get a paper of degree with no proper education, experiments or internship programme to nourish my skill in Electrical Engineering,” he said.

This article China’s foreign students beg Beijing to allow them to return to the country to resume university study first appeared on South China Morning Post

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