Students begin return to China as COVID restrictions ease

While thousands of university students from around the world still await their return to China following more than two years of disruptions to their studies because of COVID-19 pandemic-related travel restrictions imposed by China in early 2020, students from Pakistan, Thailand and Sri Lanka are among those who made it back to China in June on specially chartered flights.

Shaista Sohail, executive director of the Pakistan Higher Education Commission, told University World News that sustained efforts by the Pakistani authorities have led to the breakthrough, allowing the first 90 Pakistani students to return to China on board a special Pakistan International Airlines flight on 20 June.

“As a first step, Pakistan authorities are in process of sending back 5,832 students, and more students will be … resuming their education in China. The ministry of foreign affairs is in the process of the registration of students wishing to resume their studies in China. The first batch consisted of students who registered first,” Sohail said.

General ban on foreign students continues

A Thai diplomatic source said while China will allow in small groups from certain “friendly countries”, a general ban on foreign students entering the country would continue and those who have been able to return “under special agreements” will not be able to travel freely within China due to its strict “zero-COVID” policy.

Another Asian diplomat, who asked not to be identified, told University World News that groups of students were allowed back based on the institutions in which they were studying. These had to be in regions with no new cases for a certain period. In addition, the students needed to be arriving from countries where a large proportion of the population is vaccinated.

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