CHINA: Overseas students to be expelled?

Media around the world have reported that all foreign students will be forced to leave China during the Olympic Games. But although visa regulations have been tightened and some students have not had their visas renewed, the reports of wholesale expulsions appear to be unfounded.

The first claims that China would expel tens of thousands of foreign students during the Olympics were made by deutsche-presse-agentur or dpa, a leading German press agency. dpa reported statements allegedly from Peking University and the University of International Business and Economics, and the claims were rapidly spread by the media in Germany and abroad.

The Chinese-language Global Times newspaper quoted a staff member in the overseas students' office at Peking University who dismissed the claims.

"Very strange! Until we read this report we had heard nothing about the matter...," the staff member said. "Peking University's summer programme for overseas students will continue as planned, it absolutely is not cancelled. Moreover, the female spokesperson mentioned in the dpa article doesn't even exist. We only have one spokesperson, and he's a man."

Although China's Foreign Ministry was unable to confirm the dpa claims, Germany's Foreign Minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, said no such indications had been given by officials. The Academic Exchange Service, Germany's national agency for the support of international academic cooperation, also noted it had not been informed of any expulsions.

Dr Stefan Hase-Bergen, head of the service's office in China, said no central regulations were in place for students or academics from abroad. While visa regulations had been significantly tightened for everyone, the impact on foreign students varied.

As a rule, students doing courses in China for one year also have to apply for a visa covering that period, which means that everyone can stay until the end of July. But if students wish to remain as tourists or for other purposes, their visas have to be renewed and often another reason must be given. This used to work in the past but now such renewals are sometimes being refused.

Hase-Bergen said no uniform picture had emerged because the renewals had to be authorised by the respective higher education institutions, with some approving and some not. He said things could also become more difficult for students and even lecturers wishing to stay on for another year for academic purposes. They required extended visas too, although so far there had been no reports of extensions being denied.

"Many applications are currently being processed. So it is still too early to assess things here," Hase-Bergen said. "But what we can definitely say is that so far, according to our experience, one cannot speak of expulsions."