international students in china
Thousands of international students have not been able to set foot in China since March 2020. Source: Mohd Rasfan AFP

International students in China have suffered from one of the world’s longest and harshest COVID-19 travel restrictions, with borders closed to most foreigners since March 2020, but things could start looking up.

A Malaysian minister was quoted saying that China could allow international students, including those from Malaysia, to return soon to resume their studies.

Malaysian Foreign Minister Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah was quoted saying by FMT that priority will be given to final-year students and those who need to use laboratory facilities for fields of study involving research that cannot be done remotely.

He was speaking after an inaugural meeting of the Malaysia-China High-Level Committee on the post-COVID-19 cooperation which was co-chaired by Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi.

international students in China

“Wang Yi did not say when students can start but from what he told me, they want the matter to be implemented as soon as possible,” Abdullah told Malaysian media on December 4. Source: Tiziana Fabi/AFP

Malaysian international students in China

Abdullah had reportedly told Malaysian media on December 4, “Wang Yi informed me that Malaysia was among the highest on the list of countries with students in China. He did not say when (students could start returning), but from what he told me, they want (the process to begin) as soon as possible.”

There were some 8,000 Malaysians studying in China, but they returned home when COVID-19 began spreading in the country last year. Currently, there are over 100 Malaysian international students in China who have not left the country. 

Abdullah said Malaysia was currently waiting for the Chinese government’s announcement on the conditions and processes for students to return to their respective universities.

As most Malaysian international students in China are private students, the ministry will work with Malaysian alumni to facilitate their return to China. Many of these students are currently pursuing different study fields that include science and technology, language and traditional medicine. 

Other international students in China

No further details were given on the nationality of the other international students who could return to China.

Students have been vocal in raising frustrations on Twitter via hashtags like #TakeStudentsBacktoChina and #TakeUsBacktoChina to air their concerns, even so far as to stage demonstrations in an attempt to re-enter the country.

Students have had to deal with challenging time zones as they study remotely online, while some have also complained about the poor quality of online learning.

Abid Hussain from Pakistan previously told Study International: “I chose to study abroad in China because of how developed the country is with amazing resources in science and technology. There are so many facilities for lab work and this makes it easier for students like me to do research.”

These days, however, he’s stranded in Pakistan with no access to labs to resume his master’s programme.

Moin Uddin Helaly Thouhid was one of the hundreds of Bangladeshi students who reportedly staged a demonstration and formed a human chain outside the National Press Club in the country’s capital — Dhaka — on Sept. 5, calling for their return to China.

Thouhid, a petroleum engineering student at the Southwest Petroleum University in Sichuan, said students have been waiting for almost two years for their return. “Waiting isn’t a suitable solution,” he told Study International.

The 23-year-old has been studying online since March 2020.