WORLD / AMERICAS
US ease of travel ban for Chinese students 'good news', signal of further lift of restrictions: observers
Published: Apr 28, 2021 02:11 AM
Passengers wearing protective masks check in at the San Francisco International Airport boarding area, in San Francisco, California, the US on Tuesday. Photo: VCG

Passengers wearing protective masks check in at the San Francisco International Airport boarding area, in San Francisco, California, the US on November 24, 2020. Photo: VCG


US authorities announced on Monday that Chinese students, whose academic programs begin on August 1, 2021 or later, can enter the US before the start of their academic activities, which is seen by observers as a major step forward for academic exchanges in the post-pandemic era.

Industry insiders and concerned students noted that the move gives them hope of further relaxation on travel bans and visa application.

Chinese students, whose academic programs begin August 1, 2021 or later, may qualify for the US' National Interest Exception (NIE) and can enter the US no earlier than 30 days before the start of their academic activities, according to an announcement by the US Department of State on Monday. 

Students and academics subject to Presidential Proclamations in China, Iran and Brazil, may now qualify for a NIE if their academic program starts on August 1, 2021 or later, said the US authority on Monday. 

Students with valid F-1 and M-1 visas no longer need to contact the US embassy or consulate to seek an individual NIE to travel.

The US Embassy in Beijing told the Global Times on Tuesday that the embassy's spokesperson will respond to the statement on Wednesday. 

The announcement threw a bomb in US-China student circles, with students and industry insiders sharing the good news. 

Shasha, a student holding a long term visa said to the Global Times on Tuesday that the announcement has "saved her a lot of trouble and has sent a friendly signal to Chinese students to come to the US." 

Bai Limin, an expert in charge of undergraduate program applications at ZMN International Education, a Beijing-based educational consulting agency, told the Global Times on Tuesday that the new announcement is a signal for the US' further relaxation on the travel ban for Chinese students, which he believes will come in May or June. 

Bai said he is positive about a thaw in the situation of Chinese students going to the US but the instability of the pandemic still poses a challenge for international travel and academic exchanges. 

Prior to the latest move, Chinese students were required to stay at least 14 days in a third country before entering the US, as regulated in a State Department notice from April 8 that restricted the entry of individuals who had been present within the 14-day period before travel in China, Iran, the Schengen Area, the UK, Ireland, Brazil, or South Africa. 

Liu Shuangtao, CEO of Perfecting Education, an educational consulting agency for studies in the US, said that the ease on restrictions for Chinese students returning to schools brings a glimmer of hope to the resumption of in-person classes in the US universities in the fall and is an anticipation for the US embassy's potential opening for student visas.  

It is not yet clear when the US embassy and consulates will open for visa applications. According to the official website of the embassy, it "remains unable to resume routine nonimmigrant visa operations" due to COVID-19 risks. 

Students without valid F-1 or M-1 visas are still restricted to enter the US which disappointed those who do not hold a visa. A student admitted to New York University, surnamed Zhang, who previously took online classes from Shanghai, told the Global Times that the new measure would not solve the plight of the rest of students who do not hold visas yet. 

The Global Times learned from industry insiders that the embassy may resume student visa applications after China's May Day holidays.

EIC Education, a top overseas education agency in China, also said on Monday that sources from the US Embassy in Beijing told them that student F-1 visa applications will resume in May. 

While the new move is welcomed by many, some students and parents still expressed concerns over the epidemic situation and the racial problems in the US. 

Cheng, a student from the University of Chicago, who has been taking online classes in China, said that although the policy is being relaxed, she still prefers to stay in China and take classes remotely.

"There are still a lot of unfavorable situations in the US. The epidemic is not under control and there are some hate crimes against Asians. Even if direct flights are reopened, I would not choose to attend classes on campus in the US," she said. 


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