US opens to Chinese students and academics in easing of Covid-19 travel bans

Holly Chik
·3-min read

The United States has announced an easing in some coronavirus-related travel bans, allowing entry of students, academics and journalists from various countries, including China.

Journalists, students and academics covered by exchange visitor programmes and travellers from Brazil, Britain, China, Iran, Ireland, the Schengen Area and South Africa who “provide vital support for critical infrastructure” may now qualify for a “national interest exception”, which would allow entry to the US.

The US Department of State said students with valid visas could enter the United States 30 days before school started in August and did not need an individual national interest exception to travel.

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The announcement comes more than a year after the US suspended entry for people who were in mainland China 14 days before arrival. US citizens, permanent residents and immediate family members arriving from Hubei province – the initial epicentre of the pandemic – also had to be quarantined for 14 days, while those travelling from other parts of China were subject to “proactive entry screening” and self-quarantine.

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In the announcement on Monday, the State Department said it “continues to grant NIEs for qualified travellers seeking to enter the United States for purposes related to humanitarian travel, public health response, and national security”.

Students wanting to apply for new visas should check the status of visa services at the nearest embassy or consulate, the statement added.

In China, the US’ embassy and consulates “remain unable to resume routine nonimmigrant visa operations” due to the pandemic, according to the embassy’s website.

Vicki, a Chinese student who is doing her first year of a master’s programme online in Beijing through the University of Pennsylvania, said she was considering deferring her studies for a year because she did not have a valid student visa.

“The US consulates in China are not yet open and I do not have my F-1 student visa yet,” the 25-year-old said.

The student in counselling and mental health services, who has been taking virtual classes since September, said she was also worried that on-campus teaching would not resume in the second half of the year.

“I won’t be able to go through with it if the Covid-19 situation is not under control in the US and we have to continue to take online classes,” she said.

“Whenever I think about taking online courses I feel exhausted. I can’t see my classmates and it’s hard to interact with others and focus.”

She said continuing to take online classes from China was not a viable option either, especially given the time difference.

“I can’t take part in workshops held in the afternoon US time. My body can’t stand pulling all-nighters.”

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