If they come back to India, the unrelenting rise in Covid cases here will make it difficult for the students to return and resume their studies. Meanwhile, those who have completed their studies are struggling to find a flight home
Twenty-one-year-old Manik Sarkar, who is pursuing a course in hospitality in Copenhagen (Denmark), has been trying to return to India since March. Flights have been cancelled multiple times and Sarkar is uncertain about the return journey.
“If I am able to travel to say, France, and take a flight from there to India, I am not sure if there will be a return flight before October when I was planning to start some internships to complete some practical lessons. Flights are not frequent and we don’t even get proper communication about the status. My course is over but I was looking to work here and I am not sure if I will be allowed to return,” he said.
Amidst the Coronavirus outbreak, there is rising uncertainty about what happens to students stuck in a foreign land after their course or those who want to come back for a short trip to be with their families.
Industry sources told Moneycontrol that places such as Italy, Denmark, Japan and Australia are among those where Indian students are stuck. About 1 million Indian students study overseas and it is estimated that 85 percent of them have returned home amidst the pandemic and are studying online.
International flights have been halted till August 31 and currently, air bubbles or special flights between a fixed set of countries, operate apart from the repatriation flights under the Vande Bharat Mission.
Banking on the Vande Bharat Mission
Mayuri Kamath, who is pursuing research in linguistics in Gyumri, Armenia, is betting big on the Vande Bharat Mission’s fifth phase to book tickets home. “There was a flight scheduled for August 17 but I have a research meeting during that time. I am hoping that more flights are added. I cannot keep staying for long because it is expensive and I have a young child back home in Nashik,” she said.
As of August 12, the Vande Bharat Mission, in its fifth phase, has flights scheduled from Sydney, Abu Dhabi, Armenia, Bahrain, Melbourne, Toronto, Dhaka, Kuwait, Kuala Lumpur, Doha, Muscat and Auckland, among others.
However, places such as Peru, Portugal, Spain and China have been excluded. It is likely that these will be included in future phases.
Twenty-five-year-old design-student Parvati Narayanan is stuck in Milan and is waiting for the special flights to resume. “I have completed my course and cannot keep overstaying because living costs are expensive. I am hoping to return at least by September because my wedding is scheduled in December in Madurai,” she said.
The dilemma: Stay put or return home?
Education consultants are of the view that the rise in cases also increases the uncertainty about these students being able to go back once they are repatriated. Overseas education consultant Biswajeet Rudy told Moneycontrol that countries like Australia want minimal flight operations to restrict the spread of infection.
“If a student from Australia comes back to India, he/she will not be allowed back at least for the next two to three months because we are now a high-risk nation for Covid-19. Hence, it is essential that students plan their trips accordingly to avoid missing out on any internships or employment opportunities in the host nation,” he explained.
The Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency of the United States, too, has said that new international students to institutes cannot enter the US if the course is fully online. However, this is not applicable to students who are already in the US.
“There is a fear among those planning a student visa extension, especially in places like the US, that if they come back to India, they won’t be allowed to re-enter,” added Rudy.
India has a total of 2.39 million confirmed Covid-19 cases, with 47,033 deaths so far.
China and Italy, which had the highest cases of Coronavirus in the early days, in March and April, were among the first countries to which international flights from India were suspended.