Following the Covid-19 epidemic in China in 2020, all but a few returned to India in stages, but are now stranded in their home country because Beijing has prevented international students from returning to institutions. After hundreds of Indian students' study in China was unexpectedly halted due to the COVID-19 outbreak two years ago, students are still unsure when they will be able to return and are getting increasingly concerned about their future. India ranked fourth in a country-by-country breakdown of students studying in China, with 23,198 students. Students from a half-dozen Chinese colleges, mostly medical institutions, who have remained in India for the past two years have expressed concerns that they have been given no information about when they can return. So, what does the future hold?
Over 23,000 Indian students study in China, the majority of whom are enrolled in medical schools. Colleges across China closed in late January 2020 due to the COVID-19 epidemic. Many students visited India over their winter vacations and have stayed ever since. Others, particularly those studying in Wuhan and Hubei province, which is a major medical teaching center in China, came home as the pandemic spread.
Two years into the pandemic, the decision to return to China is still up in the air. The universities claim that the Chinese authorities have provided them with no schedule for issuing the letters required for visa applications. Some South Korean and Malaysian postgraduates have been granted visas, but none have been granted so far from India. After two years of tough virtual education, students' chances of passing the exam have only increased, and they are still unsure when they will be able to return to their colleges and make up for the lost time.
Thousands of foreign students, usually studying in Chinese medical universities, have had nearly two years of their education wrecked by China's rigorous zero-case COVID-19 policy. China has stopped giving visas to Indians since 2020, and there are now no flights between the two countries. For the past 17 months, around 20000 Indian students studying in China have been waiting for the Chinese government's consent to return to China and restart their studies. According to some sources, from March 2020 to July 2020, both international and Chinese students studied online, but from August 2020 onwards, Chinese students returned to campus, while the Chinese government refused to allow international students despite repeated requests and frequent interactions by the Indian Embassy in Beijing on the issue. International students from all over the world, including India, have petitioned the Chinese government to ease the nearly two-year restriction on their return, but their efforts have been in vain.
In the light of the recent Indo-China conflicts and seeing the struggles of the students, China has promised India that it will work to ensure the early return of over 23,000 Indian students who have been stranded at home for more than two years due to Beijing's strict COVID-19 visa ban. In its first positive statement on the thorny subject of trapped Indian students, the Chinese Foreign Ministry has informed the Indian Embassy that they are conscious of the welfare of all foreign students, including Indian students. The Indian embassy in Beijing has raised the issue of Indian students with the Chinese foreign and education ministries on several occasions but has received no fruitful response from the Chinese government. It can be concluded that China is considering coordinated arrangements for the return of foreign students, but still remains non-committal on the timeline for Indian students.
It's unclear to what extent the students should be concerned about the current condition of Sino-India relations, which are at their lowest point in decades due to ongoing military tensions in eastern Ladakh. As far as the return of the students is concerned, students can rest assured that China is starting to mobilize the return. Further, China has also ensured that they will not face any discrimination because their return to school is not a political issue. However, Beijing is yet to commit to a specific date for the repatriation of Indian students and their South Asian counterparts.
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