This is a breaking story. Stay with the Beijinger for updates.
The People’s Republic of China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced late Thursday night that it would temporarily suspend entry of most foreign nationals holding valid Chinese visas or residence permits.
Here is the Foreign Ministry’s statement, as published on its website in English, in its entirety:
“In view of the rapid spread of COVID-19 across the world, China has decided to temporarily suspend the entry into China by foreign nationals holding visas or residence permits still valid to the time of this announcement, effective from 0 a.m., 28 march 2020. Entry by foreign nationals with APEC Business Travel Cards will be suspended as well. Policies including port visas, 24/72/144-hour visa-free transit policy, Hainan 30-day visa-free policy, 15-day visa-free policy specified for foreign cruise-group-tour through Shanghai Port, Guangdong 144-hour visa-free policy specified for foreign tour groups from Hong Kong or Macao SAR, and Guangxi 15-day visa-free policy specified for foreign tour groups of ASEAN countries will also be temporarily suspended. Entry with diplomatic, service, courtesy or C visas will not be affected. Foreign nationals coming to China for necessary economic, trade, scientific or technological activities or out of emergency humanitarian needs may apply for visas at Chinese embassies or consulates. Entry by foreign nationals with visas issued after this announcement will not be affected.
“The suspension is a temporary measure that China is compelled to take in light of the outbreak situation and the practices of other countries. China will stay in close touch with all sides and properly handle personnel exchanges with the rest of the world under the special circumstances. The above-mentioned measures will be calibrated in light of the evolving situation and announced accordingly.”
A few things to note.
— This policy applies to people who currently hold valid visas — so even if you have a valid visa, you will be denied entry.
— The new policy will go into effect at midnight on Saturday, March 28, just under 24 hours from the time of publication.
— This only applies to incoming travelers. Outbound travelers are still permitted to exit the country for now, although outbound flights are extremely limited, and travelers may encounter other restrictions or quarantine if they transit other countries or territories en route to their final destination.
— There are very few exceptions to this rule: as indicated in the statement, (1) diplomatic, (2) official, (3) courtesy, and (4) C visas (air, ship, train, and other international transportation crews) are not affected.
— The language of the statement indicates that those foreigners who intend to come to China to “engage in necessary economic, trade, scientific and technological activities, and for urgent humanitarian needs” can apply for special permission to return via a Chinese embassy/consulate abroad. This could mean that China may be re-issuing visas on a case-by-case basis.
An informal survey conducted by The Beijinger in February showed that approximately 30% of Beijing’s expat population had not returned to the city after spending time overseas for Chinese New Year. Six weeks later, an undetermined number were still in their home country or in vacation spots popular with expats such as Thailand and Bali.
The closure presents a particular problem for students, teachers, and administrators who are currently overseas. Two weeks ago, the Ministry of Education requested all schools to tell their staffs who had not returned to stay where they were until the reopening of schools was announced. While many of China’s administrative districts have already announced their reopening, Beijing still has no forecasted date for a return to school.
If you are reading this and have an urgent need to get back to Beijing, get moving now — bearing in mind that you will still face two weeks of quarantine at your own expense upon arrival.
Our suggestion to everyone outside the country and wishing to return is to do your best not to press the panic button right now, wait until we all get more details tomorrow. Plan on calling your area Chinese embassy/consulate tomorrow or in a few days to find out if you can re-apply for entry.
Image: The Beijinger