Chinese students unable to return home because of the coronavirus outbreak will not be penalised by UKVI if their visa is set to expire, The PIE has learnt.

UKVI confirmed to UKCISA that they are working on a short-term operational response to issues related to the virus.

“UKVI are on it and basically there should be some kind of mechanism so that students feel reassured that they won’t be treated as overstayers”

It is thought that students who can’t return home will be able to request leave outside of the normal rules. UKVI is expected to release full guidance on February 7.

“Our main queries last week related to students whose flights had been cancelled, and were unable to travel home but whose visas were due to expire,” chief executive of UKCISA Anne Marie Graham told The PIE. 

“We did some work with UKVI last week. UKVI are on it and basically there should be some kind of mechanism so that students feel reassured that they won’t be treated as overstayers if they can’t get home because of the coronavirus.”

Graham added that within the next three months, there’s going to be quite a few students who are due to return home.

In a UKCISA statement, Graham explained that students with visiting family members who are unable to return to China, should get in touch with their UKVI account manager.

The movement of Chinese nationals is also causing issues in the UK’s independent schools sector. The Boarding Schools’ Association has released guidance saying that any child who travels to China, should spend a period of 14 days in the UK before returning to school, and should self-isolate during this time.

Caroline Nixon, general secretary of the BAISIS, said there was also a problem with the parents of students coming to visit their children in the half-term holiday.

“Of course the problem with that is that if the parent comes over to the UK and spends time with the child, if they happen be infected themselves, they might give it to the child and then the child might go back into school,” she said.

UK universities on high alert

The UK’s first case of coronavirus, announced on January 31, involved an international student at the University of York and a family member that had travelled to the UK with him.

Although a spokesperson told The PIE News that “the university is open as usual and will continue to operate normally”, some students voiced concerns over the lack of information they were given on the case.

The university later released a statement asserting that the student in question had not been on campus or attended recent university events.

“For anyone who has concerns our helpline which we set up over the weekend remains in place. We have stepped up messaging across the campus around good hygiene practice and information about the virus, with posters across all colleges, departments and public areas,” a spokesperson said.

“We also have an increased number of hand sanitisers across all colleges, departments and public areas.”

Both the victims are currently being treated in Newcastle while one person who was airlifted out of Wuhan to the UK is currently being tested for the virus after exhibiting flu-like symptoms.

So far universities in the UK have reported that there has been little disruption to classes and their students but they are preparing for any changes.

The University of Nottingham noted that it has temporarily suspended student exchange programs and was reviewing programs “as necessary”.

“But to date [we] have not had any reports of students who have been disadvantaged by the current situation,” noted a press release from the institution.

UKCISA’s Graham flagged that there had been cases of abuse against Chinese students sparked by the outbreak.

“The other thing that obviously we’re very keen to do is make sure that Chinese students feel supported while they’re here in [the] country,” she said.

“Not least because, you know, they might be worried about friends or family who are at home and in the affected region or have travelled to the affected region, but they might be feeling vulnerable here.

“We have been concerned about stories around xenophobia and another attack on students, there’s been one in Sheffield that we’re aware of and we just we just keep an eye on that and trying to get some positive messaging out to reassure the students.”