Universities tell stranded international students to prepare for return to campus in China

·3-min read

Two international universities in China have told their overseas students to prepare for a return to campus as early as March, after they were shut out of the country because of the pandemic.

While there has been no official announcement on when China’s borders will reopen to foreign students, Duke Kunshan University in Suzhou and New York University Shanghai have both sent out emails saying they could be allowed back on campus in time for the next semester.

China’s borders have been closed to most foreigners since March 2020, with special exemptions granted for work or family reasons, as part of its zero-tolerance strategy to Covid-19. That has left many of the country’s half a million international students stranded overseas and unable to attend classes in person.

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International students have taken to social media to appeal to Chinese authorities to grant them visas so they can return to the country to continue their university studies, including via the Twitter campaign #TakeUsBackToChina.

But at present, the only international students receiving China visas are from South Korea, after the two countries agreed in July last year to resume issuing student visas. South Koreans make up about 10 per cent of China’s international students.

China’s foreign ministry did not respond to a request for comment.

A Duke Kunshan University email said its leadership understood that China was working on a “detailed plan” for international students to enter the mainland. Photo: DKU
A Duke Kunshan University email said its leadership understood that China was working on a “detailed plan” for international students to enter the mainland. Photo: DKU

The email from DKU, addressing students and parents, advised students to get vaccinated and prepare their visa applications.

“The DKU leadership understands that China is now working on a detailed plan to facilitate international students’ safe entry to the Chinese mainland. Early indications suggest that this procedure, once finalised, will allow students to enter gradually in groups over time to ensure suitable and sufficient quarantine measures,” according to the email, which was posted on Twitter on Monday by a reporter with Duke University’s student newspaper, The Chronicle.

There was no date for when students might be able to start applying for visas or when they might be able to enter China, but the email said the progress was “encouraging”.

International students received a similar email from NYU Shanghai on Monday, saying it was confident they would be able to attend campus next semester. Sent by David Pe, the dean of students, it said they should work with their academic advisers in the coming month to register for classes in Shanghai, get vaccinated, and begin looking at direct flights. The email, which was also posted on Twitter, said students would have to complete a 21-day quarantine period before the end of January.

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

An overseas student officer with NYU Shanghai confirmed the advice for students to prepare to return, but said there was no date yet for that to happen.

“Students will be required to undergo a 14+7 quarantine, with the first two weeks to be carried out at government-designated venues and the last week of self-quarantine at other venues. Students are expected to bear the costs themselves,” said the student officer, who declined to be named.

Staff at Chinese universities, including Peking University in Beijing and Fudan University in Shanghai, said they were unaware of any plan for international students to be allowed into the country.

“Currently, the only international students we have on campus are the ones who were stuck here during Covid, and the rest are Korean students,” said an overseas student officer with Fudan University, who also requested anonymity. “We’re not aware of any arrangements – students should check with their local Chinese consulates as to when they will be open for student visa applications.”

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