Education ministry to help foreign students return to Taiwan

TAIPEI (CNA) — The Ministry of Education (MOE) said Thursday it will help facilitate the return of foreign students who wish to continue their studies in Taiwan but have not been able to do so due to the country’s border restrictions amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The MOE said, however, that such an undertaking would depend on whether the Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) eases the border control measures, and whether schools have adequate facilities for the mandatory 14-day quarantine of returning foreign students.

The statement was issued by the ministry after several student and youth organizations staged a protest in Taipei earlier in the day, calling for Taiwan to allow the return of Hong Kong students, who had not been able to come back for the spring semester due to Taiwan’s COVID-19 prevention regulations.

Under the regulations, Taiwan currently bans the entry of foreign nationals, except for those with residence permits and some categories of businesspeople. The residence permit advantage, however, does not extend to travelers from Hong Kong, Macau or China, as they are not permitted to enter Taiwan unless they are the spouse of a Taiwanese citizen.

In the MOE’s statement Thursday, it said it had asked universities and colleges to begin preparations for the return of stranded foreign students, which will include providing information about the schools’ capacity to quarantine students for 14 days.

Taiwan has always welcomed foreign students, the ministry said, pointing out that it had introduced a pilot program last December to allow the transfer of students from Hong Kong amid the turmoil caused by the government’s efforts there to quell months of pro-democracy protests.

While the trial program has ended, the ministry said, it will continue its discussions with the relevant government agencies on how best to accommodate students from Hong Kong and Macau.

As of 2019, there were 6,824 students from Hong Kong and 3,853 from Macau enrolled in tertiary institutions in Taiwan, according to MOE data.

Meanwhile the protesters, including members of the Taiwan Youth Association for Democracy and the Hong Kong Outlanders, on Thursday also criticized a national law proposed by Beijing, which is widely seen an effort by the Chinese government to take full control of Hong Kong after a year of pro-democracy protests in the special administrative region.

The protest was held outside the Hong Kong Economic, Trade and Cultural Office in Taipei, the Hong Kong government’s liaison office in Taiwan.