China's foreigner ban leaves global businesses in limbo
China's corona virus travel ban devastates foreign companies and international schools. Many fear for their future as leaders, teachers, and students are stranded in their home countries.
A ban on most foreigners entering the country was introduced in March as the overseas outbreak increased - families were separated and businesses struggled without key employees.
Even those with a valid residence or work permit or businesses doing business have been excluded, and there have been further doubts about when the restrictions would be lifted after a new group of infections was found in Beijing over the weekend.
Jessie Lim, the founder of Frequency Advertising & Event, has been stranded in Singapore since her trip in January.
"(The ban) really shocked me," she told AFP, adding that her Chengdu-based company didn't make anything in the first three months of the year because the virus stopped meetings and events.
Lim was due to return in February when a 14-day arrival quarantine was imposed - so she was late hoping the measure would be lifted.
Instead, she was stunned when the ban was announced and she could not return at all.
The business is expected to pick up in the coming months, but Lim is unable to meet customers and fears that if she stays away longer, she will suffer further losses.
Although China has set up fast-track channels for key businesspeople to return with some countries, the process is still complicated and requires a letter of invitation and approval from the State Department.
A Beijing-based restaurant in the Middle East informed AFP that the founders, after stranding in Israel, are looking for new owners for their downtown restaurant and are considering making the move permanent.
St. John Moore, chair of the UK Chamber of Commerce in China, called for a system this week that would allow UK nationals living in China to return with their families.
"An increasing number of British companies are making China their regional linchpin in China with roles across the region. It is not possible to continue in this current environment," he said.
A May Chamber of Commerce survey found that 90 percent of the 109 member companies were affected by global travel interruptions, which was a key concern.
More than half of the respondents said that there was no further concern about not being able to bring expatriates back to China.
Jörg Wuttke, President of the EU Chamber in China, added that it is now the "recruitment season" in which companies are transferring up to 100 employees to new roles or appointments.
"But it could now be very difficult (keeping workers in China) because many family members are separated ... many people can just cancel their stay, go home and stay at home," he told AFP.
"How can we make China a good place to live if there are no flights, the quarantine conditions are unfavorable and it is difficult to get a visa?"
- challenges in the classroom -
At international schools, students and teachers are stranded abroad.
Moore of the British Chamber said that "a significant number of British teachers remain outside of China," which presents schools with the challenge of resuming personal lessons.
"If this is not resolved to make China a place where international families with children can continue to work ... we will see a decrease in China's attractiveness as a place for long-term engagement," he said.
Some parents have asked for reimbursements for high tuition fees because classes cannot start again, which adds to the financial problems of the schools.
"The crisis happened just when we were supposed to pay the second term," said Karim Vincent Berrada, whose child is attending the French International School in Beijing. Some parents were angry that they had to pay even though there were only online classes.
International schools have made huge investments in China in recent years, hoping to meet the needs of expats and wealthier Chinese families looking for international standards of education for their children.
According to ISC Research, the number of foreign independent brand campuses has increased from seven in 2012 to 74 this year.
International schools have faced challenges as more and more expats have lived in China in recent years.
Sam Fraser, head of field research at ISC Research, warned some schools "may not be able to offer refunds or discounts or incur financial losses".
Funding for other projects may need to be postponed if cash is diverted to keep school running. "We think it is inevitable that some schools will have to be closed."
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