Indian students enrolled in Canada stranded, seek priority vaccination
Thousands of Indian students enrolled in Canadian universities have been stuck in India since Canada suspended the flights from India in late April. “Some of the students were able to go... but many have been stuck here due to unavailability of flights and the visa delays...,” said Deepa Bhatia, a parent of a student.
In February, when Canada placed restrictions on travellers, most Indian students found it difficult to pay 2,000 Canadian dollars ( ₹12,00,00) for a mandatory hotel quarantine upon arrival.
“With halted flights, it seems [students will be unable to return] till the end of June. Many... were supposed to get there for summer courses...,” Bhatia said.
Students say universities even continue to charge the fee for unoccupied hostels apart from the course fee. “My daughter is a science student, and she was enrolled for an in-person course which involved some laboratory work. However, due to the unavailability of the flights, she missed it. However, we have paid for it and there is no return of that fee,” said Preeti Sukumar, a resident of Bengaluru. She added her daughter continues to pay her hostel fee. “The rent for each month is over 1,000 Canadian dollars. While I am managing it somehow, many parents have lost their jobs in the second wave of the virus in India. They are struggling to manage the normal academic fees, leave alone the hostel fee,” said Sukumar.
Universities such as the University of British Columbia (UBC), have increased the fees by two to four per cent citing the “ability of international students to pay”.
“I have been distressed about the travel crisis and the accommodation fee of my son. Along with many other parents, I requested the university to cut the fees. But they instead increased it....,” said another parent.
There was no immediate response from UBC.
As Canada is expected to allow fully immunised travellers, many students say the vaccine shortage for the 18-45 age group may hamper their plans to return. Covaxin, one of the first two shots approved in India, is yet to receive a WHO approval. The students say the government’s move to increase the gap between the doses of Covishield may also hamper their chances of returning. They want the government to prioritise vaccination for them.
“I was Covid positive by mid-April and I am not supposed to get vaccinated for three months. In case, Canada mandates vaccination for travellers, I would not be able to get back [immediately],” said Aradhita Arora, a student at UCB. She added that even in case someone gets a Covishield shot, and flights are resumed, they will have to return to India for the second dose of the vaccine as Canada has suspended administering this vaccine to people under 55. “Before Canada follows a larger trend of other countries and requisites travellers to be vaccinated fully, the Indian government should arrange flights and send them back as soon as possible. Also, vaccines should be administered.”
Another parent said countries such as Ireland and Australia have been considerate towards the Indian students and even sent chartered flights last year for them to return but Canada never made such efforts even though most of their foreign students belong to India and China.
An official, who did not want to be named, cited rising cases in India and the threat of new variants and added most of the countries are trying to be safe and are not allowing Indian citizens to fly in. He added the external affairs ministry can do little in such circumstances. The official said last year, when cases were on a rise in other countries, India too suspended inbound flights. “The final call in such matters lies with the governments that have banned the incoming flights from India and nothing much can be done.”
The Canadian high commission refused to comment, saying the mission is closed because of the Covid-19 lockdown.