Flight restrictions leave Chinese international students grounded

On March 28, China temporarily suspended the entry of foreign nationals into the country. This restriction has left Chinese international students — holding valid Chinese visas or residence permits — unable to return to home.

Chirag Asnani, a finance student from Guangzhou entering his third year, has been unable to return home for the summer due to the restriction. When the university announced the cancellation of in-person exams on March 16, Asnani was in the midst of making plans to return to China.

“When they announced that school would go online, I figured I would go home for the summer because I expected the job market [in Canada] to be difficult,” said Asnani. “But the borders closed down really quickly, so I was unable to.”

In addition to feeling homesick, Asnani faced stress from the uncertainty of the situation.

“Updates for foreign nationals would be helpful,” he said. “My parents are really stressed out because they have no idea when borders will open up.”

So far, Asnani has heard only rumours about when flight restrictions for foreign nationals will be lifted. He suspects that the easing of restrictions will be dependent on the number of COVID-19 cases in China. However, new outbreaks of COVID-19 in China — highlighting the possible risk of reopening borders — leave uncertainty on whether restrictions will be lifted this year.

There has not been any official information from the Chinese Visa Application Service Centre since its March 27 update announcing the temporary closure of its service centre in Vancouver.

Asnani added that the uncertainty of the situation presents challenges in planning for the upcoming fall semester.

“I don’t know when borders will open up … but I feel like there should be some sort of reassurance because for the first semester, I have to figure out housing,” he said. “But if they open up borders, I’ll be paying for four months’ rent without staying here because I will end up going back.”

While Asnani noted that there have been many options for financial support from the Canadian government for international students, many benefits leave out internationals. International students are also excluded from government benefits such as the Canadian Emergency Response Benefit, Canadian Emergency Student Benefit and the newly launched Canadian Student Service Grant.

He expressed the need for more available information and regular updates to better support students in his situation.

On June 18, the Chinese consulate-general in Vancouver announced that underage Chinese students, graduating Chinese students and students with special needs are allowed to purchase a flight ticket back to China.

Education consul Yunan Fu from the Consulate said in a statement to The Ubyssey that temporary flights are being prioritized first to underage Chinese students who are unaccompanied by their parents, Chinese students who have completed their studies in Canada and Chinese citizens who need to leave Canada because of urgent humanitarian needs.

He did not provide more details on when restrictions would be lifted for all other students.

“It is expected that with the improvement of the epidemic situation and the gradual resumption of commercial flights, more Chinese students who choose to return home will get what they want,” he said.