A month after External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar raised the issue, China on Friday announced plans to permit the return of “some” Indian students stranded here for over two years following visa and flight restrictions imposed by Beijing after the pandemic.
“China attaches high importance to Indian students’ concerns about returning to China for studies. We have shared with the Indian side the procedures and experience of other countries’ students returning to China,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told a media briefing in Beijing.
“We understand that there is a large number of Indian students studying in China. India may need some time to collect the names. China is ready to receive some Indian students under the current, complicated, severe epidemic situation. In handling foreign students returning to China for studies, we need to take into consideration the international epidemic situation, evolving circumstances, and their majors. This principle applies equally to all foreign students,” Zhao said.
“Actually, the work for Indian students’ return has already started. All that remains to be done is for the Indian side to provide the list of students who really need to come back to China,” he said.
According to estimates, over 23,000 Indian students, mostly studying medicine, have been stuck in India after they returned home following the Covid-19 outbreak in China in December 2019. They could not return to China due to the restrictions imposed by the government there.
Following China’s announcement, the Indian Embassy sought details of students who intend to return. “The Chinese side has expressed its willingness to consider facilitating the return of Indian students to China on a need-assessed basis… In order to facilitate this (return), the Indian Embassy intends to prepare a list of such students which will be shared with the Chinese side for their consideration. Therefore, Indian students are requested to provide necessary information by filling up the Google form… latest by 8 May,” it said in a statement on Friday.
“Once the collated information is shared with the Chinese side, they would consult relevant Chinese departments to verify the list and indicate whether the identified students can travel to China to complete the course,” it said. This coordination process would be carried out in a time-bound manner, it said.
The Chinese side has also conveyed that eligible students should unconditionally abide by the pandemic prevention measures, and agree to bear all expenses related to such measures themselves, it said.
In recent months, China has been permitting students from some friendly countries like Pakistan, Thailand, Solomon Islands and recently Sri Lanka to return, but remained silent about allowing Indian students as well as family members of Indians working in China to travel back.
On March 25, after his meeting with visiting Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, Jaishankar had said that he “took up strongly the predicament of Indian students studying in China who have not been allowed to return, citing Covid restrictions”. “We hope that China will take a non-discriminatory approach since it involves the future of so many young people. Minister Wang Yi assured me that he would speak to the relevant authorities on this matter. He also recognised the particular concerns that medical students have in this difficult situation,” he had said.
Most students stranded in India welcomed the announcement on Friday. “In July, I will appear for my third-year exams. Though the exam schedule is not out yet, we’ll be happy to appear for offline exams if our return is facilitated soon… Even if we cannot return together, we are at least assured that we will be going back to the campus sooner or later,” said Harsh Vyas, a 21-year-old MBBS student at Beihua University in Jilin City.
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But Ghanshyam Yadav from Jaipur, also studying medicine at the University of South China, Hengyang, since 2018, said: “In July-August, I will appear for my fourth-year exams. I have only a year left to finish my degree, and will have to undergo compulsory practical internship. After living here for over two years, I would like to intern at an Indian hospital instead of getting into the whole hassle of visas,” he said.
Students have to pass the Foreign Medical Graduates Examination (FMGE) to pursue an internship in India. “Instead of going back to China, I would rather spend my time here, preparing for the licensure exam,” he said, adding that “if universities make it mandatory, then I will have to pack my bags.”
Rohit Kumar Yadav, a fourth-year MBBS student at Shihezi University, said the extensive details sought in the form may be used to plan a phased return of students. “The chances of fourth-year and final-year students returning to campuses are high, as they require practical experience more than first or second-year students. Those who have already commenced their internship in India may not even consider going back,” he said.