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Chinese border to remain closed until second half of 2022

Short on time? Here are the highlights:

  • Major media outlets are reporting that the Chinese government intends to largely maintain current border closures through the first half of 2022
  • This means that tens of thousands of foreign students caught outside the country will not be able to begin or continue their studies in China in the current academic year

Reports from Times Higher Education, the Wall Street Journal, and others all indicate that China’s current border restrictions will remain in place until the second half of 2022.

The news comes as the new academic year gets underway in China this month, an event that has reportedly led a number of universities to reach out to foreign students asking them to defer their admission for another year.

China enrolled nearly 500,000 foreign students in 2019, but its borders have been closed to international students since early 2020. Despite continuing lobbying by student groups, there is no indication of any easing of border rules for the current academic year.

To the contrary, the Wall Street Journal is reporting a May meeting of China’s State Council determined that strict border controls will remain in place through the first half of 2022. The decision is apparently being guided by two major events on the horizon: the Winter Olympics, which will be held in Beijing in February 2022, and a major Communist Party Congress at end of year at which President Xi Jinping is expected to seek an additional term as leader of the Chinese government.

The situation is increasingly serious for tens of thousands of students, many from South Asia and Africa, who are enrolled in medical studies or other applied science programmes in China. Those students have been prevented from continuing their studies, or at least any clinical or practicum components, for the duration of the pandemic and their training and professional goals now hang in the balance while the country’s borders remain closed.

To date, only limited exceptions have been allowed, including for students from South Korea as well as those attending some foreign joint-venture programmes. The lack of transparency and clarity in the government’s approach to foreign students is fuelling frustration, which is especially evident in social media and other online channels.

Speaking to Times Higher Education late last month, Curtis Chin, a former US ambassador to the Asian Development Bank, said, “Students who have been locked out of studies due to COVID-19 travel restrictions continue to deserve greater compassion, consistency and transparency of treatment, as well as open and honest communications.

He added that, “China’s image, in particular as a global partner in education, is likely to be hurt in the near to medium term as that nation’s inconsistency in dealing with international students from different nations continues to play out.”

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