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Mandarin students pen open letter to MOE asking to be allowed into Taiwan

Foreign students write to education ministry in hopes they can go forward with Mandarin studies this fall

Huayu scholars waiting to start their studies in Taiwan. (Huayu scholars image)

Huayu scholars waiting to start their studies in Taiwan. (Huayu scholars image)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — International students who have registered to study Mandarin in Taiwan have penned an open letter to the education ministry to allow them to commence their studies amid a ban on non-resident foreigners.

On July 21, Huayu Enrichment Scholarship (HES) students, as well as non-scholarship Mandarin students, penned an open letter to the Ministry of Education (MOE) to allow them to begin their studies amid a ban on foreign visitors.

In the summer of 2020, HES students across the globe were notified that they had been awarded the competitive scholarship to study Mandarin in Taiwan, but due to the pandemic, they were never allowed into the country. On April 21 of this year, the MOE announced that after a year of waiting, the scholarship recipients soon would be able to start their studies in Taiwan.

However, as the students wrote, "what seemed to be a dream turned into a nightmare" when Taiwan reimposed a ban on foreign travelers on May 17 as COVID cases in the country surged dramatically. On June 11, Taiwan halted the processing of visas at its overseas missions in the midst of the country's Level 3 pandemic alert.

Over the next two months, Taiwan was able to bring the number of cases down substantially. On July 27, Taiwan lowered its epidemic control measures to Level 2, and these are set to end on Aug. 9.

With this progress in mind and the deadlines for the start of classes looming, the students decided to write to the MOE. In the letter, they pointed out that HES and non-scholarship students, as well as some Chinese language teachers, have been waiting since March 2020, when borders were first closed to foreigners at the start of the pandemic.

Given that the situation in Taiwan has stabilized, the students wrote that they "humbly ask MOE to honor its words and prioritize Huayu Enrichment Scholarship students so we can begin our studies this fall, alongside the degree students." They added their wish that non-scholarship students could study in the country as well.

The letter pointed out that other countries in Asia that have closed their borders, such as South Korea and Singapore, are still letting students in. The authors explained that their 12-month scholarship is only good if they begin their studies this fall.

The students stated that they would be willing to undergo any required safety measures, such as COVID tests and 14 to 21 days of quarantine. They suggested that some of the coursework could be offered online during their quarantines.

They reminded the MOE that the purpose of the scholarship is to “encourage talented young people to undertake Mandarin language courses in Taiwan and to promote knowledge, understanding and friendship of people in the global community." The students stressed that allowing students to learn Mandarin in Taiwan is beneficial to the country's image and would "fulfill the goal of turning Taiwan into an international center for the study and research of the Chinese language."

In response to the open letter, which was sent on July 25, the MOE stated that it is following guidelines dictated by the Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC), which currently bars any foreign visitors who do not have a residence permit. The MOE emphasized that it understands the "ardent expectations" of the students but said the strict border control measures are a "necessary measure to protect our national defense and epidemic security."

When asked for comment on the matter, a MOE representative told Taiwan News that students who already have a residence permit are allowed to enter the country. As for those who have not yet received such a permit, the ministry said it is closely communicating with the CECC and "under the premise of strict border control and a priority on epidemic prevention," it will assist international students hoping to study in Taiwan in a "safe and orderly manner."

The MOE added that the HES is based on an academic year and indicated that if students miss a portion of their studies because of the travel ban, the scholarship can be extended. In addition, it said that for students unable to travel this year due to the pandemic, it will ask Taiwan's overseas representative offices to give them priority consideration when processing their applications for the scholarship next year.