Canada’s reluctance to lift the ban on direct flights from India has added to the woes of students.
Canada's supposedly 'immigrant friendly' policies have managed to woo Indians in the last decade, looking to move abroad as the US took a backseat due to stricter policies under the Trump administration. However, Indian students who are struggling to book a flight to Canada, despite getting admitted to prestigious institutions have a different story to tell.
While some students were struggling with visa applications as visa offices and embassies remained shut until April as the second wave of COVID-19 ravaged the country, others who had received the approval were waiting for their passports to get stamped. "People can’t complete gathering required documents, or get their passport stamped," says Ankit Mishra, an MBA student who has enrolled in the Fall semester (starting in September) in a Canadian University.
Mishra added that Canada’s visa process is tougher than the US, UK and Australia. “It’s comparatively easy to settle down, get admissions and PR is Canada but it is one of the strictest in terms of its visa process,” adding that the timelines for the visa process to get converted into approvals or rejections were also increased due to the pandemic.
Abhishek Sharma, another student who is also waiting on his visa approval after being admitted to a Canadian university said that his online application was filed in but the biometrics were done on June 28 after the services resumed.
Sharma seconded Mishra and said that he knows about some of the embassies of other countries that were functioning during the lockdown like the UK embassy. “The VISA process is also faster in other countries as there are fewer applicants applying as compared to Canada,” Sharma noted.
“Canadians have always known to be slow, but the way they reopen things are too strenuous and usually ends up in students rushing things at the last moment,” Mishra said.
Canada’s reluctance to lift the ban on direct flights from India has added to the woes of students. The prohibition has been imposed since April 22 on account of second wave of infections and has been renewed twice since then. The time limit for the ban will expire on July 21 if the Canadian government doesn’t extend it.
Travellers are now going through a third country like Mexico, Oman, Ukraine and Serbia to reach Canada. Travelling through these transit countries not only increases the travel time by several days but also substantially increase the cost of one-way travel to Canada.
“Direct flight to Canada would cost between Rs 60,000-Rs 80,000 but going through a transit country, Indian RT-PCR negative report is not enough. Canadian government demands a test in a transit country as well which is conducted 72 hours prior to landing in Canada,” Mishra said.
He added that in case a student isn’t fully vaccinated or isn’t vaccinated with a WHO approved vaccine (currently India’s Covaxin remains unapproved by WHO), he/she will have to mandatorily quarantine in a government specified hotel for three days costing between Rs 70,000-Rs 1,00,000. After these three days, a further quarantine is mandatory for 11 days for unvaccinated (or vaccinated with Covaxin) individuals in any hotel or lodging facility as the student prefers.
The first RT-PCR test is taken in India, then in transit country and two more tests in Canada on the third day and eighth day after reaching Canada. The students have to bear the cost of all these tests as well in addition to the delays.
“I’ll have to book a connecting flight from some other country and quarantine there and then proceed to Canada. I also need to have a negative Covid Report from that country. After arriving in Canada, there is a mandatory quarantine which is relaxed only if I am fully vaccinated,” Sharma said.
News of nearly 200 Indian travellers/students stuck at Belgrade airport after Serbia imposed a seven-day mandatory quarantine has added to the anxieties of the students planning to travel in the upcoming months.
Mishra estimates an incremental cost of Rs 4,50,000 more than the pre-pandemic expense of a student moving to Canada. “The vaccine availability, duration between doses, WHO not approving one of the vaccines available is a nightmare for students when they already have a deadline hanging over them,” Mishra concluded.