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Germany will not issue study visas if programmes have transitioned online due to COVID-19

Short on time? Here are the highlights:

  • Non-EU students whose programmes have moved online due to the pandemic will not be permitted to enter Germany this year
  • Those enrolled in programmes delivered according to a hybrid model, a mix of both in-person and online, will not be affected by the government’s decision
  • The announcement has stirred up controversy, especially given that the German government objected to the US government’s July announcement – since revoked – that international students in the country would have to leave if their programmes moved online

The German government has announced that only international students who are required to physically attend classes this year will be eligible for study visas. Without proof that they cannot complete courses online from their home countries, students will not be able to obtain visas. To that end, non-EU students will now require a “certificate of presence” issued by a German university as a first step in applying for a visa.

“Foreign students who can prove that their studies cannot be carried out entirely from abroad, for example, due to compulsory attendance, can enter the country to begin their studies,” said Education Minister Anja Karliczek. “But the entry for online or distance learners will not be allowed.”

It appears however that the restriction will affect a relatively small proportion of international students, since most German universities plan to offer a mix of in-person and online classes – a “hybrid” model. If there is an in-person component to the programme, international students will not be prevented from applying for visas.

Ironically, the decision comes on the heels of the government’s objection to the US administration’s announcement in late July that international students in the US whose classes had moved online would have to leave the country. That decision has since been revoked (now it is only new international students who will not be allowed to enter the US for online courses), but at the time, around 9,000 German students were at risk of being forced to leave the US. In response, Minister Karliczek said at the time that, “Science and research thrive on exchange, and particularly on international exchange,” adding that this was true even in times of COVID-19.

Kai Gehring, Germany’s Green Party spokesman for education, called the German government’s new guidance hypocritical: “If the German government were now to stick to the present regulations, this would represent a blatant case of double standards.”

Speaking on behalf of international students, Kumar Ashish of the Federal Union of International Students in Germany, argued,

“If you are admitted to a college in Germany, they should give you a visa. It is the same in the US — it is the right of the student, if they have received their visa, that no-one can deny it to them.”

And Free Democrat education expert Jens Brandenburg called the decision “disgraceful,” saying that it was up to Ms Karliczek to take a stand supporting international academic mobility. As of April, an estimated 80,000 international students had left Germany due to COVID-19 lockdowns and closures of campuses.

Germany and the US are not the only countries now pressing pause on new international enrolments if they are for programmes delivered online. In Canada, a country that has built a reputation of being especially welcoming to international students pre-COVID, and supportive of them as the pandemic took hold, there is now uncertainty regarding whether some international students will be able to enter the country.

A July update from Canada’s immigration ministry (IRCC) cautions that even those with valid study permits (issued or approved as of 18 March) should plan to come to Canada at this time only if their travel can be considered “non-optional and non-discretionary.” What this means in practice is that students whose programmes have transitioned to online delivery because of COVID could be denied entry to Canada, even if they hold a valid study permit.

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