South Asian students concerned about Canada’s continuing flight ban

Aug 17, 2021 | Headlines, News

Indian students hoping to study at post-secondary schools in Canada are circumventing Canada’s flight ban by taking circuitous routes through other nations.

Jenice Rathod, a 25-year-old international student at Conestoga College in Kitchener, Ont., arrived in Canada from Ahmedabad on July 12 after spending two nights and conducting multiple COVID-19 tests in Albania.

She spent three times the normal travel expense and took four days to reach Canada from India to join her online classes. The journey took her to Albania and Montreal, before her final touchdown in Toronto. Rathod said it was frustrating and very expensive.

“I had booked a two-day package which included my transportation, food, and stay,” she said. “I feel international students are taken being for granted, everyone is hungry for money, I spend nearly 400,000 Indian rupees (about C$6,000) and additional money for COVID tests.”

Jenice Rathod taking the selfie at Tirana International Airport on her journey to Canada.

Jenice Rathod, right, taking the selfie with a friend while at Tirana International Airport in Albania during on their journey to Canada. Photo credit: Courtesy Jenice Rathod

Canadian authorities have suspended all flights from India until Sept. 21, largely because of a high number of positive COVID-19 cases detected among passengers. But travelers can enter the Canadian border via indirect routes, providing negative COVID-19 tests in a third country and proof of vaccinations.

Overseas students from India are re-routing their trip to Canada through Mexico, Serbia, Qatar and United Arab Emirates, among other countries.

Because of the travel ban between Canada and India, Rathod couldn’t travel to Canada despite getting a student visa, She completed her first semester of the global business management program remotely from her home.

She said her family was her greatest support as she first tried to wait out the ban, first announced by Ottawa on April 22.

“I was waiting for direct flights to be open but unfortunately they are still closed. Why not just take the risk and face it all at once,” Rathod told Humber News. “Me and my parents did all my research from YouTube, watching travel vlog posts by other international students, and my dad helped me to set up this long journey.”

She said there is little information available about indirect routes to international students hoping to enter Canada from the third country.

“I was nervous about how everything will work, I could only find what is expected from passengers at the airport but there was no information posted on how they can reach Toronto’s airport safely,” Rathod said.

Before the travel ban was imposed on flights from Indian, all travelers had to undergo a mandatory 14-day quarantine in a government-authorized hotel, with a COVID-19 test on the eighth day.

However, on July 5, Travel and Tourism Canada announced fully vaccinated passengers are exempt from hotel quarantines.

In order to get an exemption from the hotel quarantine, travelers should be fully vaccinated. Nevertheless, Rathod said she was scared during her journey of getting infected from COVID-19 despite being fully vaccinated.

“There was a constant fear in my mind that whenever they will do any COVID-19 test on me, it should come negative,” she said. “Sanitizing everything before touching, using a double mask, I’ve taken extra precaution about myself, I can’t afford for anything to go wrong.”

Like Rathod, student Foram Suvera, an international student also at Conestoga, had plans of moving to Toronto to continue her applied manufacturing management mechatronics course, which she started remotely from India in January.

She also opted for the long, expensive route to Canada through Albania.

Suvera, of Ghandhinagar, the capital of Gujarat state in western India, she said after paying the high tuition to college, studying from home was not acceptable.

“I always wanted to pursue my higher education in Canada,” she said. “I know COVID is dangerous and deadly but at the same time, I have paid a huge amount to my college, not just to sit and study from my home.

“Even though colleges are functioning remotely in Canada, but being in the city (Toronto) I can tell myself that I’ve made the halfway,” Suvera said.

Suvera had made her way through the check-in process at Sardar Patel International Airport in Ahmedabad and was all set to board the flight, when Canada’s flight ban went into effect.

She said it was heartbreaking for her to take the exit gate.

“I was very excited that I’m finally going to Canada and then I was told about the heartbreaking news, I started crying, I felt helpless,” she said.

She said learning online is a “waste of money” and “disappointing” because she can’t experience in-person classes.

Suvera said although it was expensive travelling through a third country, she said she didn’t have a choice.

Below is a timeline on Canada’s bans on flights from India: