China on Monday said it is planning to allow a small number of foreign students with “actual needs” who are stuck in their countries for about two years due to its COVID visa bans to return to the country, amid reports that Beijing has issued visas to some Pakistani students.
“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,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told a media briefing here.
He did not elaborate on the criteria for “actual needs”.
“The students concerned must strictly comply with China’s epidemic prevention protocols,” he said while replying to questions that the Chinese Embassy in Pakistan had begun issuing visas to Pakistani students.
Pakistan has over 28,000 students stuck back home for about two years due to COVID-19 visa bans by Beijing.
China promised during the visit of Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan last month to “arrange” for the return of the Pakistani students.
Zhao did not deny the reports of visas being given to Pakistani students but was silent about permitting 23,000 Indian students, mostly studying medicine in China, including in Wuhan, the epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Last month, China promised India to work for the “early return” of over 23,000 Indian students and assured New Delhi that they will not be “discriminated” in any manner as their resumption of studies is not a “political issue”.
“The Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) of China has assured the Embassy that they are cognizant of the welfare of all foreign students, including Indian students, and have also conveyed that they will work on their early return to China in a coordinated manner and will continue contact with the Embassy on this matter,” a statement by the Indian Embassy here said on Feb 22.
The Chinese MFA also conveyed that the return of Indian students was not a “political issue” and they will not be discriminated against in any manner while deciding on the return of foreign students to China to resume their education, it had said.
Sri Lanka and several other countries have also been pressing China to permit their students to return to Beijing to join the classes, pointing out that it is already two years since they missed the classes.
To follow up questions on permitting the return of the students, Zhao said on Monday that “as the tsunami of Omicron variant continues to rage across the world, China has taken reasonable and necessary prevention and control measures”.
“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,” he said.