India flight ban leaves some students stuck at home, while others explore expensive loopholes

The Government of Canada has extended the ban on incoming flights from India until September 21, impacting many students who live in those countries.

The flight ban has been in place since late April and has been extended several times, resulting in many students not going home to India when they intended. Now, many students find they’re not able to easily come to Canada for the start of in-person classes in September.

“The extension through September 21 was definitely the one that hit the hardest,” said Raunaq Nambiar, a third-year natural resources conservation student. “I just felt this overwhelming level of sadness that, as a double vaccinated law-abiding student, I was now outright prohibited from coming to the country that once welcomed me.”

Some students have sought alternate routes to Canada to get around the travel ban, but trips don’t always go smoothly and are often very expensive.

Nambiar compared the alternate route “loophole” to the former three-day quarantine that was in place for several months — costing up to $2,000 for travellers who entered Canada during that time.

“Its high price was clearly meant as a deterrent, and the cost and inconvenience of this stopover route is no different,” Nambiar said.

Nambiar also expressed concern at the risks these students could face attempting to take an alternate route — from getting exposed to COVID-19 or even getting stuck in certain countries. Last month, 200 Indian travellers — mostly students travelling via the India-Serbia-Canada route — got stranded at a Belgrade airport and had to be rescued by Serbia’s Indian Embassy after the country changed its quarantine guidelines.

Michelle Suderman, director of UBC’s International Student Development team, encouraged students to seek out multiple routes when planning their return and referred to UBC’s main source of up-to-date travel information, the online international student guide.

“Of course, the university does not have one piece of advice for every student because every student’s situations are so varied,” Suderman said.

Suderman hopes the students who are currently in India are able to make the best choice for them, so they can “feel confident in moving forward.”

“The university is as much at the mercy of the federal government decision as the students are, so it’s certainly not the university that’s making the decision,” she said.

“The faculty members, academic advising offices, graduate program offices have been working with individual students to see what’s possible in case students are delayed in their arrival.”

Nambiar said he would avoid the alternate route option.

“I find the fact that the government and UBC expect residents of India to take these routes mildly humiliating. It feels reductive forcing students through Mexico, Egypt and Ukraine in order to reach Canada,” Nambiar said.

“For those who are staying back, as will likely be my case, I hope that they can welcome the new academic year with ease, and that they won't be left behind by their peers, faculty, and university,” he said.

“For those taking these alternative routes, I wish them the best of luck, and hope to God they never have to do it again.”