Coronavirus: Germany denies visas to foreign students on online courses

Foreign students coming to Germany this semester whose courses are online only will not be eligible for visas because of the coronavirus pandemic, the government has confirmed.

More than 80,000 foreign students in Germany had left the country by April, with lecture halls and libraries closed because of the coronavirus lockdown.

As travel restrictions and domestic rules were slowly eased, many hoped things would return to normal after the summer. But an announcement from the German government has cast fresh doubt on students’ visa status.

Students from outside the European Union are now required to receive a “certificate of presence” from their German university to be able to apply for a visa. But the pandemic means that some courses are moving their studies entirely online.

“Foreign students who can prove that their studies cannot be carried out entirely from abroad, for example, due to compulsory attendance, can enter the country to begin their studies,” a statement from Education Minister Anja Karliczek reads. “But the entry for online or distance learners will not be allowed.”

The announcement comes around two months before the start of so-called winter semesters in Germany.

The announcement drew comparisons to US President Donald Trump’s short-lived plan to do the same for online learners in the US. Trump’s government made a speedy U-turn in July after the plan was met by widespread outrage.

When Trump backtracked, Germany’s Education Minister Karliczek greeted the decision warmly.

“Education and research survive because of exchange, especially international exchanges. That is also true in times of a pandemic,” she said in July.

Critics say Karliczek is now denying foreign students in Germany this opportunity to experience an exchange.

“If you are admitted to a college in Germany, they should give you a visa,” said Kumar Ashish of the Federal Union of International Students in Germany. “It is the same in the US — it is the right of the student, if they have received their visa, that no-one can deny it to them.”

He explained that a visa should still be possible even under further coronavirus travel restrictions.

“This is another bureaucratic hurdle [for foreign students],” said Greens member of the German parliament Kai Gehring, at whose request the information was shared.

“It has not been taken into account that a student exchange is more than going to lectures and seminars,” Gehring said. “It is also about campus life and learning about Germany’s culture and society.”

Yann Werner Prell, who works with South Korean students in Germany, pointed out other failings of the decision.

“Because of big time-differences, taking part in online lessons from abroad is difficult, as is working together with other students,” he wrote on Twitter. “Students also work with literature from libraries that can’t lend out books abroad.” – DW.

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