Life Abroad
10 min

From India to study abroad — despite COVID

Since the epidemic started, India has been struck by a devastating second wave of COVID-19. It has resulted in more than 21 million infections. Some countries announced travel bans from India fearing the Indian variant of the virus.

In these circumstances, hundreds of young people with dreams to study abroad may wonder: will I be allowed to enter a foreign country? Can I still pursue an international degree? 

1. Am I allowed to leave India?

In the current situation, the rules may be uncertain, but if you are going to study, you, most likely, will be able to leave the country.

Like many other countries dealing with air travel restrictions during the pandemic, India is allowing restricted passenger movement through international air bubbles. An air bubble is ‘a travel corridor between two countries that will fly their aircraft in a regulated environment’, according to the statement by the Indian Director-General of Civil Aviation, Hardeep Singh Puri.

Bubble agreements with the United States, France, and Germany enable a limited number of international flights along these routes. India and the United Kingdom are currently working out the specifics to reopen bilateral air routes. 

According to the Indian Standard Operating Protocol (SOP), all travelers before boarding need to undergo thermal screening and should wear masks throughout the flight. The protocol also states that before validating the tickets the airline should ensure that the destination country allows entry of particular persons. The person traveling abroad must satisfy the conditions, if any, imposed by the destination country. Therefore, if a country allows international students, they will be able to travel. 

2. Am I allowed to enter the country where I am planning to study?

A lot of countries, many of which are popular international student destinations, identified India as a high-risk area or ‘area of variant concern’. Some of them — for example, France — impose not travel restrictions, but rather additional rules for those arriving from India, such as mandatory 10 days quarantine. 

Several countries either suspended their flight operations to and from India, or limited the categories of those who can enter. However, many of them do allow students from India to enter, requiring only negative COVID-19 test results and undergoing a quarantine. 

For example, the US has banned entry for all non-immigrants who were present in India during the 14-day period preceding their entry. At the same time, all students (as well as certain academics, journalists, etc.)  qualify for a National Interest Exception. Of course, all air passengers should present a negative COVID-19 test, taken within three days before entry, and go on self-isolation after arrival (the length of isolation depends on a passenger’s vaccination status).  

The UK has added India to its travel ‘red list’, and allows entry only to those who have residence rights. According to the Department for Education (DfE) guidance, students do have residence rights and, therefore, can still enter the UK even from a ‘red list’ country. Upon arrival to England, Indian students should take two COVID-19 tests and undergo a quarantine in a government-approved hotel for 10 days. The cost of staying in the quarantine hotel may be reimbursed by some of the education institutions

Canada has suspended the flights from India. Again, there is an exception for students. To enter Canada, it’s important to have a valid study permit and be attending a designated learning institution with an approved COVID-19 readiness plan. Students will likely be allowed to enter Canada if they meet these requirements, yet the final decision will be made by an official at the port of entry. Everyone is required to take a pre-entry COVID-19 test and to go on isolation in a hotel

The rules are a bit stricter in Germany and Italy — these European countries banned entry for travelers from India. Those who have been already studying there and, therefore, hold a residence permit in those countries, can return to continue their studies. According to the website of the German mission in India, entry to this country, even with a valid visa, is generally banned, which includes those who haven’t obtained a residence permit yet. This ban also applies to holders of student visas. In German Embassy in New Delhi, the visa section will be closed until further notice. Those who have a residence permit should take a COVID-19 test before entering Germany and undergo a mandatory quarantine for 14 days at their place of residence. 

New Zealand has identified India as being a 'very high-risk country', meaning that only some people can travel directly from there — namely, New Zealand citizens, their partners, and dependents. Degree, postgraduate, and Ph.D. students who have been nominated by their education provider will be allowed to return to New Zealand to continue their studies.

Australia has been quite different from every other country in this sense. The authorities have imposed a complete entry ban on all persons from India, including international students and Australian citizens, and even criminalized an attempt to come to Australia from India. These extreme measures were met with criticism, since hundreds of already enrolled Indian students had to stay in India, without the possibility to attend their studies. The federal government will consider exempting international students from Australia’s travel ban as early as July.

3. Am I going to be admitted into a foreign university?

The reality is that the global pandemic changed both the way that students choose a foreign university, and universities choose students. These days Indian students are concerned not only with the chosen course itself, but also with health infrastructure and medical facilities in the country where the university is located. Universities, on the other hand, try to comply with the current travel restrictions and regulations imposed by the government, and to lose as few students as possible. 

The financial impact on universities has been significant this year, according to various reports. International students’ fees provide a large share of the universities’ income. Universities are interested in attracting students from abroad: however, last year students from all over the world differed in their plans to study abroad.  

The analysis of the UK universities concludes that overseas fee income was forecast to be down by around 10% this year – yet, at the same time, student recruitment in 2020/21 was stronger than earlier predictions. According to the analysis, the number of applicants from outside the EU increased by 17% in 2020, and the acceptances from China were up by 30%. The UK government announced a support package that includes an additional 10,000 student places. 

In the US, total international students number decreased by 16% in Fall 2020, with new international student enrollment decreasing by 43%. Despite this decline — caused not only by COVID-19, but also by president Trump’s policies, — universities remain committed to international student outreach: approximately half of them are prioritizing overseas recruitment in China, Vietnam, and India. 

In Canada, international students are also seen as an attractive source of skilled immigrants. According to Statistic Canada, universities could be facing potential losses ranging from $377 million (-0.8%) to $3.4 billion (-7.5%) during the 2020/2021 academic year. To tackle these challenges, the economic impact assessment suggests, among other measures, to “pilot an expansion of universal healthcare coverage to include international students” and to “provide sufficient funding to colleges and universities”.

On the other hand, Australia’s restrictions led universities to cut more than 17,000 jobs, according to industry group Universities Australia. Operating revenue fell 4.9% last year, and is expected to fall another 5.5% this year, the experts report. According to them, the universities could lose up to $15 billion in international tuition through the next few years — international students start to doubt that they will return to Australia.

Many countries, including one of the most popular destinations, the United Kingdom, have offered post-study work visas. Several top-ranked universities are now allowing foreign students to take advantage of perks such as test waivers and admissions based on provisional results

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