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Visa, second shot problems at home for students going abroad

More than a month after Maharashtra announced a special vaccination drive on priority for students enrolled in universities abroad, many are still scrambling for visa and their second shot in time for the start of the fall semester next month
By Shreya Bhandary, Mumbai
PUBLISHED ON JUL 14, 2021 11:33 PM IST

More than a month after Maharashtra announced a special vaccination drive on priority for students enrolled in universities abroad, many are still scrambling for visa and their second shot in time for the start of the fall semester next month.

Many students have taken to social media platforms including Twitter to share their travel woes.

“Flights from India are not yet allowed to enter Canada, so some of us have booked tickets to travel to another country from India first, and then take a separate flight from there to Canadian cities,” said Mohit Patel, another student enrolled for a Masters in Data Management at the Northeastern University in Toronto. Patel is spending nearly 1 lakh more to fly to Mexico and then to Toronto to avoid the travel restrictions.

The Centre opened universal vaccination for adults on May 1 but asked states to bear the cost and burden of vaccinating those in the age group of 18 to 44 years by procuring vaccines directly from the manufacturers. However, several manufacturers, including the two supplying vaccine doses to the Centre – Serum Institute India and Bharat BioTech – were unable to supply directly to the states, the first on account of the lack of approvals and indemnity and the latter due to insufficient production. On June 21, the Centre began to procure vaccines for this age category too. Till then, states including Maharashtra began to prioritise students who needed to travel abroad by allocating specific dates for their vaccinations.

Another policy decision spelled further delay.

In May, the Union health ministry announced that it would increase the gap between the two shots of Covishield to 84 to 112 days (it was previously 42 to 56 days sparking worry among students about reaching their allotted universities in time. This rule however changed recently by the central government, and students can now opt for their second dose of the vaccine within 28 days of their first shot.

Students from small towns said that they were struggling to convince authorities about the reduced gap. Yash Nayak, 22, has already got his visa to the United States approved, but he’s still unsure when he will be allowed to take the second shot of Covishield. He is in a Masters in Science (MS) in Management Information Systems (MIS) at the University of Buffalo.

“I got my first dose and as per the 28-day rule, I should be getting my second vaccine now. But unlike cities like Mumbai, Hyderabad and Chennai where students are being vaccinated on a priority basis, authorities in smaller cities are still demanding that we wait for the second shot,” said Yash, who resides in Bhilai, Chhattisgarh.

“First it was the fight for getting vaccinated, then we had to wait for the government to decrease the gap between two shots of Covishield and now it’s the seemingly never-ending wait for visas. I received my visa papers for Canada on May 4 but till date haven’t received the passport submission and payment link. Few people I know through Twitter and I are waiting to hear from VFS Global for an update,” said Priyesh Sharma, who will be pursuing a one year post graduate degree in communications from the University of Ottawa.

The government of Canada on their official website have also clarified that even though flights from India are currently suspended, students who completed the submission of their study permit application before May 15 should get a confirmed decision from the visa authorities by August 6, 2021. “We will process complete applications submitted after May 15 as quickly as possible—but we can’t guarantee that you (student) will get a final decision before the fall semester begins,” a statement read.

On July 8, the Twitter handle of VFS Global Care, posted: “Please note that Canada VAC (visa application process) have started Passport Submission Service in a phased manner. Customers who completed their 2-way courier process prior to the lockdown will be contacted by VFS Global by email.”

VFS Global is a private firm that manages the passport and visa-related administrative work for a host of countries around the world.

Tamil Nadu resident Rathin Umesh, 22, has received his US visa and has both shots of Covishield vaccine. His tickets to the US are for August 4. What is holding him back, however, is the fear of the new Delta variant of Covid. “My parents and I are equally worried about the new variants of Covid-19, which research shows is bypassing the vaccine effect as well. I really hope to reach my university healthy,” said Rathin, who is going to pursue a Masters in automotive engineering technology from the Minnesota State University.

Akshay Chaturvedi, CEO & Founder of Leverage Edu, an EdTech and career guidance company, said the concerns of students also depends on the country they are heading to.

“So far there has been absolutely no problem that has come from our students heading to the UK, a huge testament to how the country has handled the pandemic. Our students who are now going to the US have started booking their visa slots in the last few weeks,” said Chaturvedi. “However, the embassy and the government has acknowledged that they are currently managing a huge influx of student visa applications and have advised students to be in constant touch with their universities for alternate options in case visa interview dates aren’t available before their start date. However, this is a very rare instance and we are talking to university partners and students on a daily basis to ensure the right information is carried from source to destination.”

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