The move may be surprising to those who remember that the German government was quite critical of the US’ botched attempt to enact similar measures and that the German Embassy in the US told The PIE News they were in talks with US officials to resolve their own visa problems.
“We are shocked that this procedure has even happened”
Although the measures differ in several significant ways – students already in Germany, for example, will not be impacted, nor will EU students – it is likely to be a blow to those who changed study destinations due to restrictions in other countries.
Around 80,000 international students left Germany at the outbreak of Covid-19 with the hope of being able to return in the new academic year. According to one estimate, only around 10-15% of classes will be taught in-person, a much lower rate than in neighbouring countries.
“We are shocked that this procedure has even happened,” said Leonie Ackermann, a board member of FZS, an umbrella organisation representing student associations in Germany.
“Visas must once again become available for everyone enrolled at universities in Germany. The current decision is a terrible picture of what constitutes studying abroad, and also studying in general.”
Fellow board member Amanda Steinmaus added that the move would put international students at a disadvantage compared to their classmates as it would deny them access to libraries and other facilities.
“It is also possible during the coronavirus pandemic to do things like meeting outdoors and, at a sufficient distance from fellow students, indoors to study,” she added.
“It is that part of studying where people gain experience and get to know places and people that they otherwise wouldn’t otherwise. This is all the more the case with studying abroad. This is not just about seminars, but about little things such as shopping at the supermarket, visiting inner cities, landscapes and much more. ”
Germany has been praised for its handling of Covid-19 and some predicted that this would help drive student mobility to the country.
But, like Canada, where international students have been hit with arguably disproportionate tuition fee increases and been prevented from boarding flights, its latest decision may hit its reputation.
Peter-André Alt, president of the German Rectors’ Conference (HRK), explained that the group was working with DAAD and relevant ministries to produce certificate templates for universities to pass on to students to “certify the necessity for international students and research staff to be resident in Germany”.
“If necessary, it would be possible to attend purely virtual courses from a student’s home country. But of course, one of the main benefits of studying abroad is the personal contacts and experiences acquired outside the seminar room,” he said.
“So whenever in-person work is possible within the framework of the necessary protective measures, we must ensure that international students are granted unrestricted access and the appropriate visa.”
However, he also highlighted that students still face challenges in obtaining visas even if their courses meet the current requirements.
“During these difficult times, the international character of German universities must be maintained”
“The HRK is concerned that the limited operation or even closure of German consulates in many countries will give rise to serious problems in visa applications and approvals,” he added.
“In the HRK’s opinion, it is therefore very important to ensure that the necessary resources are available. During these difficult times, the international character of German universities must be maintained.”
The Times of India reported hundreds of students looking to study in Germany are awaiting appointment slots at the consulate in Mumbai and are even appealing to local politicians to intervene in the situation.