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China opens student visa applications, direct flights resumed

After two years of being almost completely closed off at its borders to international students, direct flights and healthier student flows are beginning to resume after the premier announced “all students” would be welcome back to China.

The pace of reopening is expected to be “steady and slow”. Photo: iStock

Earlier this year students from Pakistan were prevented from returning to China due to unaffordable $3,000 flights

The first direct flights between China and UK resumed on August 11, with Air China relaunching Beijing and London routes, and other local airlines beginning routes from Guangzhou and Shanghai in the days following.

China Daily also announced on August 22 that direct flights between Beijing and Manchester in the UK would resume.

“Since the onset of Covid-19, China has responded by following the dynamic zero-Covid policy and working to prevent imported cases and domestic resurgence of the virus,” foreign ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin told media on August 19.

“With a science-based and prudent approach, we have improved visa and other policies to better facilitate cross-border travel and exchanges and cooperation with other countries – we welcome the return of international students to China to resume their studies,” he announced.

Another official for the MFA, Ji Rong, also tweeted her “warmest congratulations to students” in India, as numerous Chinese embassy pages across the world began to show the same message: “Application Procedures and Material Requirements for China Visa” – all to be implemented on August 24.

Chinese officials have also reached out to students in across Africa.

Wenbin insists that “active arrangements” have been made to let students in, some having waited over two years to return, or to start, their studies in China at one of its hundreds of universities.

The prominent group on Twitter that represents the sizeable proportion of students waiting to re-enter the country, China International Student Union, has also said that it’s “great news to see embassies welcoming applications again”.

“It’s a positive sign that China is moving toward a more mobile future”

China Admissions also reported on August 20 that more universities are “privately reaching out” to their students to bring them back to China, or to gather more information on their student status.

“It’s a positive sign that China is moving toward a more mobile future,” Vijay Solanki, chief marketing officer at Sinorbis told The PIE News.

“But, while we can’t predict the future, I believe China’s complete exit from Covid restrictions remains a distant prospect.

“Large proportions of older Chinese people remain unvaccinated – if current trends continue, China could potentially not see 95% of the over-60 population fully vaccinated until 2024,” he continued.

There is still heightened concern as tourist towns are continuing in lockdowns, with one holiday hotspot Hainan island seeing the biggest outbreak of the virus – the biggest since Shanghai’s controversial lockdown earlier this year.

Despite these ongoing issues, the country is keen to repair its international reputation as a study destination – not only have UK-China flights been confirmed, but Cathay Pacific have also updated their website to include flights to the Asian country, in a victory for a Twitter group representing Pakistani students wishing to return to China to study.

“We’re glad to see the new policy’s positive effect,” Jon Santangelo of BOSSA told The PIE. 

“Even though Covid precaution strategies will remain in place, we believe policies will continue to be adjusted in order to ease travel restrictions, while helping balance national economic recovery alongside global cultural exchange,” he added.

China Admissions warned on its website that progress “will not be immediate” – which is in line with the fact that Wang Wenbin during his press conferences did not actually give a direct timeline on how exactly students would be allowed in – much of the information is filtering through Twitter and separate embassy websites.

“Flights back to China remain limited, and the high prices of flights and quarantine could still be a barrier to some students – we expect all PRC embassies to open their student visa services again in a gradual and coordinated manner – an exact timeline or date is unknown at this stage,” the update said.

China International Student Union’s representative told The PIE that from what it has seen, there are now “new hurdles” for students wanting to apply.

“We have issues now such as flight availability and cost as well as quarantine. Some airlines require five days quarantine before departure and also some schools are planning online classes until next year, so for students there may not be enough of a reason to go back yet,” the representative commented.

“We have issues now such as flight availability and cost as well as quarantine”

Earlier this year students from Pakistan were prevented from returning due to $3,000 flights being unaffordable.

Grace Zhu, China branch manager at BONARD, explained to The PIE that she concurred the process would not be painless, saying that the pace could be “steady and slow”.

“Education might be gradually opened up, in stages, to student groups from different countries,” she said.

“The MFA has stated that it attaches considerable importance to the needs of foreign students returning to China to study – we are also conducting consultations with relevant countries as the pandemic situation develops to handle the return of foreign students to China,” Zhu added.

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