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Canada remains top destination for Indian students but travel restriction cause of concern

Even as hundreds of Indian students get ready to start courses at universities around the world during the autumn term of 2021, several major English language campus destinations including Australia, New Zealand and Singapore remain closed due to travel restrictions and closed borders.
However, Canada remains a popular campus destination for Indians even amidst the post Covid-19 uncertainty. In fact, according to official statistics from the Canadian High Commission in Delhi, for the first four months of 2021, nearly 100,000 study permits were issued to international students, up from about 66,000 in the first four months of 2020 and from about 96,000 in the first four months of 2019.
Overall, international students in Canada are contributing to the growth in immigrant population in 2021, placing the country firmly back on track to meeting its annual migration target. A recent report from the Royal Bank of Canada shows that international migration to Canada has recovered to pre-pandemic levels primarily due to the return of international students and post-graduate work permit holders.
But there is now cause for concern among students about the travel ban on Indian travellers, which had been imposed in the wake of the second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic in India. “This extended travel ban is hitting Indian students hard. Direct flights are not permitted yet and they have to find long and expensive routes to reach Canada to join their classes which will start in August-September,” said Hemant Shah, a Winnipeg-based businessman who has held several important positions in India-Canada trade and business organisations.
“In the long run, this will hit the Canadian government and its immigration policy too. International students from India form a pool of potential educated immigrants who will join the workforce in Canada,” he added. As director of Canada-India trade and marketing of Overseas Friends of India Canada — a trade and culture organisation — Shah is a signatory to a letter to the Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau asking for the travel ban on Indian students to be eased immediately.
Canada has emerged as a favourite campus destination over the last decade with the number of Indian students selecting it as their country of choice. With this, the country has experienced a significant growth between 2014 and 2019. Some of the reasons, as indicated in the Canadian Bureau for International Education’s 2018 international student survey, are the reputation for a strong quality of education, a multicultural and tolerant society, and a student’s ability to work on and off campus while studying.
But the most significant reasons are probably the strong diaspora connections with India and the post-graduation work permit (PGWP), which among other advantages, provides holders and spouses free provincial medical coverage for the duration of their permit. Additionally, accompanying spouses of international students can also obtain a work permit.
This year, there’s a strong pent-up demand after several students deferred their international study plans by several months due to the pandemic, and the proactive stand taken by universities in Canada as well as the Canadian government in easing the path for Indian students are advantages.
“The Canadian government has implemented several policy changes to make studying here more attractive for international students. One example is the creation of the PGWP, which allows international students who have graduated with a qualification from a Canadian Designated Learning Institution (DLI) to work in Canada for up to three years after graduation,” said Ananya Mukherjee Reed, provost and vice-president, academic and professor at one of Canada’s University of British Columbia (UBC). “The PGWP allows students to gain work experience to make them eligible for immigration through various pathways, such as the Canadian Experience Class (CEC).”
She added that the link between potential permanent residency, the ability to work in Canada, and the decision to study in Canada is important for many Indian students.
In February 2021, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) extended the PGWP rules to online study. International students completing their entire Canadian higher education programme online from abroad will still be eligible for post-graduation work permits, the Canadian government had announced.
“Despite the unprecedented global travel restrictions in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Canadian government as well as universities have taken several steps to welcome international students,” said Maria Mathai, a Delhi-based education consultant. From supporting students who were stranded in Canada and could not be evacuated to taking final admission decisions based on predicted results of school board exams for freshers rather than wait for the final, and providing financial need-based support are some of these steps, according to her.
“The norms for the compulsory English language test for students too were relaxed because of the pandemic, with tests such as International English Language Testing System (IELTS) and Duolingo now allowed to be taken from home. As universities in Canada are gearing up to welcome back Indian students to their campuses for in-person classes from the Fall term 2021, the government has also eased the compulsory quarantine rules,” she added. And though the hybrid model of online and in-campus classes will continue to be available to students, she feels that many are ready to travel to Canada this year.
Undergraduate students in Canada, in fact, have a longer runway of three to four years compared to masters degree students who have one to two years. “As such in 2020, students were happy to start the programme online with a view of transitioning to on-campus study soon. Canada has seen healthy numbers and those numbers are holding up. The masters level students, who have a shorter study period, have looked at deferrals so that they can have the on-campus experience,” said Lakshmi Iyer, executive director and head of education at consultancy firm Sannam S4.
She added that with the southern hemisphere key recipient countries of Australia and New Zealand remaining shut for over 15 months and likely to remain inaccessible until, at least, mid 2022, Canada will benefit from students who are pivoting away. “India is an immigration and return-on-investment driven market. The Canadian government listening to the education sector and bringing about timely changes to the rules have made choices easier for Indian students.”
Deepinder Kaur, a mid-career professional who has been working in Singapore for over seven years, is all set to travel to Canada soon to join an MBA course in business analytics at Brock University, Ontario. “I have lived in America and Singapore, but chose Canada for higher education because it’s a multicultural country that welcomes everyone and reports very few incidents of racism. Besides, the cost of higher education is competitive,” said Kaur, who is from Punjab and has worked in several cities in India before she moved to Singapore.
Though an Indian national, she does not face any travel restrictions or quarantine issues when travelling to Canada because she is in Singapore currently and can join classes immediately.
Tushar Wadhwa, who is set to join a course in business analytics at Humber College in Toronto this year, also feels that master’s courses in management and marketing are more affordable in Canada than in the US, and the PSWP is a big draw for Indian students.
“Last year was a missed opportunity for me and I decided to defer my course by a year despite having been accepted for admission in another university in Canada because I would rather experience campus life than start online classes,” explained Wadhwa, who is now awaiting his final visa clearance before he starts planning for his travel to Toronto from Delhi.
Most of Canada’s well-known universities are clearing the decks to welcome Indian students in the Fall 2021 semester. Montreal-based McGill University, one of Canada’s best-known global universities, will be returning to in-person activities and teaching for most courses to the fullest extent possible.
“During the 2020-2021 academic year, many students followed courses from their home country as we were teaching most of our programmes remotely. International students have had the ability to enter Canada throughout the pandemic, and that is expected to continue,” Frédérique Mazerolle, media relations officer of McGill University, said. Applications to McGill from high school students in India are up by close to 30% for the Fall 2021 term compared to the years prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, she added.
UBC has focused recruitment efforts in India as a market that produces excellent students whose education system has prepared them well to achieve academically. “To help ease concerns about the post-secondary education of affected students from India, we have taken steps to confirm their offer of admission for September 2021 and facilitate their application for an international study permit. In recognition of the fact that they are unable to complete their board exams, the university will no longer require final Class XII exam results. Instead, we have confirmed offers using pre-board results or marksheets, and have issued a new offer letter with all conditions removed,” Mukherjee Reed said.
Carleton University in Ottawa is also seeing strong application numbers of students applying from India for the 2020 and 2021 intakes. In keeping with public health advisories, all courses were offered online during the 2020-2021 academic year. “Moving into the 2021-2022 year, Carleton is offering flexible learning options (in person, online, and hybrid classes). We are continuing to offer one-on-one travel and immigration guidance as well as quarantine support, and hope to welcome all students to campus in the coming academic year,” said Steven Reid, media relations officer of Carleton.
The fact that most universities in Canada have supported Indian students despite the school board examinations being deferred and cancelled has been a big boost for undergraduate courses.
“Last year, there were various factors including deferred board examinations, fear of international travel because of the pandemic and hesitancy over online classes that saw a huge decline in Indian students going to Canadian universities. However, this Fall, we expect many students to travel to our university as the Canadian High Commission has already started the process of granting study permits,” said Anjali Anand Seth, international admissions advisor, India, for Huron at Western University in Ontario.
India is the largest market for international students for Huron.

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