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Indian students worried over EU travel restrictions

Rhea Bhansali is a recipient of the prestigious Erasmus Mundus scholarship, awarded by the European Union Commission, for a dual master’s degree in hydro informatics and water science management. Her two-year course is spread across four universities in Europe — Spain’s UPC, Newcastle University in UK, Germany’s BTU and UNS France.
But Bhansali’s excitement over starting her course is turning into disappointment as her country of entry into the EU — Spain — is not processing student visa applications since India is on the red list of countries facing travel restrictions by EU members.
“The scholarship is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to study the subject of my choice. I’m worried that if the indefinite travel ban on Indian students is not lifted by the Spanish embassy, I will lose out on the scholarship — which cannot be deferred,” Bhansali, who has got her first master’s degree from New York University, said.
She returned home to Mumbai last year when the Covid-19 pandemic made things tough for Indian students in America. Her classes start in September and involve a great deal of laboratory work, which makes it impossible to start online.
Divya Sinha, too, has received a scholarship from the EU to study in Spain under the Erasmus Mundus mobility programme for the 2021-2023 cohort, but is now unable to plan her travel due to travel restrictions. “As most European universities prepare to go back to in-person learning in 2021, we are likely to miss enrolment to our courses and lose the scholarships — most of which are set to begin around August-end and September — without any provision of deferring them,” she said.
Sinha is a graduate in pharmacy from Delhi University, and is set to join the University of Barcelona for a master’s degree in vaccinology in September 2021.
Although the Council of the EU has recommended that “travelling for the purpose of study” as a category be exempt from the travel ban, entry requirements including vaccine regulations and visa processing delays are hurting students from India.
“We have been selected through rigorous and highly competitive procedures, and have invested an immense amount of time and effort to secure the opportunity, missing out on it is a big blow to future prospects and careers,” a worried Sinha said. Many budding researchers who have secured jobs and funding in universities across Europe are also not able to start work due to the travel ban, she added.
Some European countries have started processing student visas in India in a limited way. The German Embassy in New Delhi, for instance, has started accepting applications and processing some student visas.
Indian students who want to pursue doctoral, post-doctorate or master studies and have a binding, unconditional admission letter from a German university or have been awarded a full scholarship by an official German institution can now submit their application for a German national visa directly at the service provider VFS Global, thus skipping the wait time for an interview appointment at the German mission.
The Embassy of France is also allowing travel to France for Indian students who are vaccinated.
“You may travel to France only if you provide proof of a completed vaccination schedule. Only vaccines authorised either by the European Commission or the French National Agency for Medicines and Health Products Safety (ANSM) are accepted for this purpose,” a spokesperson of the Embassy of France in New Delhi said. “The vaccination schedule is considered to have been completed 28 days after the administration of one dose of the Janssen vaccine and seven days after the administration of a second dose for other vaccines (Pfizer/Comirnaty, Moderna, AstraZeneca /Vaxzevria /Covishield).”

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