china reopen
Sources suggest that China has allowed for the return of Thai students to Shanghai. Source: Hector Retamal/AFP

When will China reopen to international students? For Thai and Pakistani nationals, it seems as though this could be sooner rather than later. 

Twitter is abuzz with claims that some Thai students have successfully returned to China after almost two years of being locked out. China International Student Union (CISU) tweeted that a group of approved students on the Thai government list have reportedly been granted entry to Shanghai. At the time of writing, there have been no official announcements made by the Chinese authorities on the matter.

“We have received some reliable information that students from Thailand have arrived in Shanghai and are in quarantine,” tweeted CISU. “They are not able to speak out publicly for obvious reasons.”

CISU is an independent representative body of international students enrolled at universities and institutions in China.

Chinese Ambassador to Thailand Han Zhiqiang indicated last October that Thai students would be among the first to return to China. 

“If the Chinese government is ready to allow hundreds of thousands of international students to return, Thai students will be among the first,” he was quoted saying by the Bangkok Post. 

He added that the embassy has been in talks with Chinese agencies in charge of COVID-19 prevention measures along with education authorities in China in regards to the matter. 

Thai students have been among those petitioning China’s reopening after the country closed its borders to the world when the pandemic broke out in March 2020. For two years, students have taken to social media to raise awareness of their plight, calling for the Chinese authorities and their respective government officials to facilitate their return to the country. 

International students are facing numerous challenges due to the border closure. Many had left important personal belongings in their dormitories, thinking they would only be gone for their winter break, while others are finding it difficult to adjust to online learning. 

Chinese authorities have remained tight-lipped about the return of international students. Source: Hector Retamal/AFP

Students undertaking programmes with practical components, such as the MBBS programme, are in a limbo and are unsure how to complete their degrees remotely.

An Indian medical student who only wanted to be identified as Meera previously told Study International that online learning is not a good substitute for medical students who require clinical skills to practice in the future.

“Being in such a programme where we have to treat patients, we need practical sessions and hands-on experience,” she said. 

For these students, a China reopening is essential if they hope to avoid wasting years of education and tuition fees. 

One Twitter user claimed to have “graduated online” but said his degree “isn’t acceptable in any country” because “no one accepts [an] online course”.

The alleged return of Thai students in China has inspired hope in others that they could be allowed back to their respective universities soon. 

“Finally a small ray of hope for [international] students,” tweeted one student. “This news is music to our ears. Sooner or later, we will also go back. I really hope to have proper offline classes from the next [semester onwards].”

Pakistani students have also allegedly received visas to return to China. Source: Hector Retamal/AFP

No confirmation on China reopening to Pakistani students

In a press conference with Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Zhao Lijian yesterday, Indian public broadcaster Prasar Bharati sought to clarify reports that the Chinese Embassy in Islamabad had issued visas to Pakistani students this month, indicating a partial relaxing of borders for select students. Lijian did not confirm nor deny the issuance of student visas.

“I know you are keenly interested in the matter of Indian students returning to China for their studies,” said Lijian.

“On the basis of ensuring safety, it is coordinating arrangements for a small number of foreign students with actual needs to return to China in light of the changing international epidemic situation and the characteristics of the students’ majors. The students concerned must strictly comply with China’s epidemic prevention protocols.”

When pressed to clarify what he meant by the Chinese government coordinating the return of a small number of foreign students “with actual needs to return to China”, Lijian said: “We will consider in a coordinated manner the matter of foreign students returning to their classes in China, actively explore feasible options and gradually arrange for those with the need to return in an orderly fashion.”

Students have expressed frustration at the vague answer and are disappointed by the lack of clear communication on China’s reopening.

“What is the meaning of ‘some students’?” one user tweeted. “Every single international student should be allowed to come, not ‘some students’. You are allowing South Korean students and [those] from Thailand, is that fair? This is the highest degree of heartlessness.”