5 Feb 2020

Coronavirus outbreak: Chinese students fear visa issues over travel ban complications

11:15 am on 5 February 2020

Chinese students are worried their visas will be cancelled if they are unable to fly to New Zealand before their term starts.

Generic Library / Students

Some students said their main concern was their visas will either expire or be cancelled if they aren't in New Zealand on time. Photo: RNZ / Richard Tindiller

A travel ban was issued on Monday in response to the novel coronavirus outbreak, with no travellers from China allowed into the country for at least 14 days.

One student, based in the Fujian Province, said students are contacting each other on the messaging service WeChat to share concerns.

Mars Cai who goes to Victoria University of Wellington said their main worry is their visas will either expire or be cancelled if they aren't in New Zealand on time.

"The main problem for these students is the visa," he said.

"They worry their visa will be cancelled or expired, and that's a big problem. They don't know what will happen if they cannot go to school on time, if they cannot attend orientation, or the first two weeks.

"They don't know how to deal with that."

The 23-year-old is due to begin a new Masters in Wellington in just a few weeks' time.

He said the visa has a strict start date, at which point they need to be in the country.

"For us, we've got our visa, it will expire," he said. "It starts the 1 March, it cannot be used if the flight gets changed until later in March [if the ban is extended].

"Then I cannot take the flight, and that means I cannot go to New Zealand, so I need to apply for a visa again."

As a result of the travel ban introduced on Monday, he's stuck at home, not knowing when he'll get to New Zealand.

He said there are groups where people can share stories online - which is providing the main source of information and advice.

"More than 1000 Chinese students in that group, and we will share our stories, share our experiences, and hear how to deal with these problems.

"For now I think that's the most efficient way to speak with the university people."

Interacting with universities proving difficult

Universities responded to the travel ban yesterday, and said they feared a temporary ban would cause a financial hit.

They were criticised by the International Students' Association for not doing enough initially to make sure the affected students were being looked after.

Mars Cai said it's difficult for them to get in touch with universities because of internet blocks which prevents Chinese people accessing websites such as Google or Facebook.

As a result, he said members of the Chinese Students' Association, already in New Zealand, are liaising with the universities about certain issues, and reporting back on WeChat.

For students to directly contact the university, they can only go through email, which is a long process.

"[Emails] always take time. Maybe I send something to the university and I get a reply in two days, and that makes the efficiency slow."

He said students were concerned and wanted the answers to their issues.

Some universities have said they will be contacting affected students directly over the coming week.

Mars, whose flight is scheduled for 21 February which is outside of the 14-day travel ban, said if the ban is extended, he just wants to be given a proper period of notice.

"If you want to [increase the] ban time, I want to know the message, so I've got time to prepare time to change my plan," he said.

"The policy now, they let us know this news - this day, and the [same] day they ban flights - I think that's really bad to do so. I would like to know the news as early as possible."