By Arun Bagaria,
Not too long ago, foreign education dreams were subject to merit and availability of funds. However, with the pandemic, things have changed even on this front. Today’s students are worried about travel restrictions, quarantine costs, stress and the ever changing regulations regarding entry of Indian students to various countries which are popular amongst them.
By the time the second wave abated in India, a lot of countries put in place the mandatory requirement of a student needing both doses of the COVID-19 vaccine in order to enter. This caused a serious concern for those who are all set to start classes shortly for the fall semester, and made them scurry for the second jab. Thankfully, the recent efforts by various state governments to prioritize vaccination for the students to enable them to attend their classes on time has come as a great boost for the students.
Travel restrictions by various countries
Indian students are facing a lot of travel restrictions by various countries. For instance, flights from India are not yet allowed to enter Canada. This is causing many of them to first travel to another country and then take a flight from that country to destinations in Canada.
Similarly, US President Joe Biden had banned the entry of non-immigrant travellers in the country alongside issuing an advisory warning its citizens against traveling to India. However, there are exceptions and special concessions being made. For instance, students from India and some other countries can enter the US if they apply for a National Interest Exception especially for those whose academic activities including optional practical training OPT started on August 1 or later. The students with valid F-1 and M-1 visas are also allowed to enter the country 30 days before the start of their programs.
Majority of the Indian students go to foreign countries for their Masters degrees and cancellation of exams etc., has become a major challenge for them. They have to incur heavy costs when they pay for the fees and living expenses at the time of the start of their courses, but end up studying online due to the travel bans. Further, the cancellation of exams in India in the wake of the pandemic has further created a major hurdle of qualifying for the undergraduate studies abroad. When students are not graded, they can’t meet the criteria for applications. Considering the scenario where everyone is promoted without exams and the students can’t go to study abroad, do we have the infrastructure ready to accommodate tens of millions of new school graduates?
There is also a huge backlog of Visa applications which again would make the waiting period really long and almost impossible for students to start their fall semester on time even if the travel restrictions are lifted by US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand etc.
There are an estimated one million Indian students looking forward to studying overseas this year. The Ministry of External Affairs has taken some steps to help the students overcome the challenge of travel bans.
Role of Travel Agents
In the current chaotic scenario, students are finding an unexpected source of support in the form of travel agents. The pandemic outbreak has necessitated the surge in demand for the travel agent services and they are not just providing ticketing, and lodging for their customers but also invaluable support in obtaining visa and updated travel support. While there are numerous foreign education companies operating in India, the prospects of travel agents playing an integral role in the ecosystem through their strong and constantly updated knowledge of regulations and procedures holds them in good stead.
The importance of travel agents and the trust and comfort factor they offer when planning any kind of travel has only been reiterated during this pandemic. Going ahead, it is not going to be an uncommon sight to see the Indian travel agents make stronger online service delivery even for the students facing challenges in going abroad for their higher studies!
(The author is Co-Founder of TravClan. Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of the Financial Express Online.)