Students worry about going home amid new India, Pakistan flight restrictions

New flight restrictions between Canada and India and Pakistan have disrupted the plans of some UBC students planning on flying home this summer.

Following a surge in COVID-19 cases in India and Pakistan, the Canadian government implemented flight bans on travel between Canada and these countries at the end of April for 30 days.

Before the announcement, Himanshu Chotwani, a fourth-year computer science major, was looking forward to flying home to India this summer. However, with these restrictions in place, as well as UBC’s plans for in-person classes in September, he is unsure whether he should return home.

“[Although] I can technically still go home… I’m just afraid I will get stuck there and I won’t be able to come back and continue my last semester of studies.”

Although Chotwani has not been severely financially burdened by the bans, the emotional and mental tolls arising from the situation have been taxing.

“It’s just really difficult because… every student also needs a summer off or wants to see their family and I haven’t seen them in like two years because of COVID.

“...I feel worried all the time about my parents because [although] they have gotten the first dose of the vaccine…, [my dad is in the] high risk category of patients,” he added.

Chotwani said he feels that the flight bans are “unfair” because the ‘Indian variant’ is already in Canada. Rather, he believes Canada should focus on effectively implementing its quarantine policies and procedures, which he feels are bigger contributors to the problem.

“Some people are skipping mandatory quarantine for three or fourteen days and I believe that’s why the virus is spreading around. Not… because you’re coming from a particular country.”

Michelle Suderman, director of international student development at UBC, and Matthew Ramsey, director of university affairs, recognized the “distressing nature” of the situation and emphasized UBC’s commitment to supporting its international students.

Suderman said those who have identified themselves as citizens of India or Pakistan have been contacted and that the advising community “is well aware of the heightened need for practical and emotional support at this time.”

Ramsey said academic, financial and immigration supports are also available depending on the circumstances of each student. In an emailed statement, Ramsey recommended that those seeking assistance in these areas should reach out to their enrollment services advisor for more information. Mental health support is available for all.

“While the university is not in a position to speculate on federal travel policy changes in the weeks and months ahead, we can assure all of our international students that planning for increased on-campus activities [for] Winter Term 1 continues,” Ramsey wrote.

“As details are finalized those details will be communicated to students centrally and via their respective faculties. Included in that planning is how we can offer students online courses if they are unable to come to campus due to travel restrictions this Fall.”

Student housing has also offered Indian and Pakistani students who are living in residence and cannot travel home “extensions on existing contracts or summer housing… according to the needs of the students,” Ramsey wrote.

For those concerned about these travel restrictions, Suderman reminded students they’re not alone and encouraged students to “focus on what you can control and [the] decisions that you have to make now” and reach out for help if they need it.