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Italian travel restrictions hit Indian students

Phaniram Varma finished his post-graduate degree in industrial automation engineering from the University of Pavia near Milan in October 2020, and now has a job as a project manager in Piacenza, a town in northern Italy.
He had decided not to return to India when the Indian government had evacuated hundreds of Indian students from Italy last year following the deadly Covid-19 wave in the European country. Although most of his Indian friends had left Pavia last year, Varma doesn’t regret his decision to stay back.
“Since the second wave of Covid-19 in India, there’s a travel ban and Indian students who can’t return to Italy are missing classes and losing out on work opportunities. The situation here in Italy, on the other hand, is coming back to normal,” he told TIMESOFINDIA.com. “Universities are how having on-campus classes and the Italian government is providing free vaccination to everyone including students.”
Varma misses his family in Hyderabad but planning a trip to India is tough. There are no direct flights from Milan to the subcontinent and on return, there’s a compulsory quarantine requirement. The past year has been challenging for him with online classes prior to graduation, and even had to submit his thesis online. But affordable healthcare, subsided education for foreign students, and emergency funds provided by the Italian government, kept Varma going.
“Travelling to India was not a good idea last year and it isn’t now. By staying back here, I’m safer and so is my family in India,” he explained.
Varshenne Reddi, who graduated with a master’s degree in business administration from the Tor Vergata University of Rome in April 2021, is also relieved that she returned to Italy from her home in Hyderabad in October last year.
“I had gone back in February 2020 for my brother’s wedding but am thankful that I could return to Italy before the travel ban and the second wave of the pandemic in India. Thanks to my student visa, I have a year to look for a job. Both the job and pandemic situations are better here,” she said. Reddi has been in Italy since 2018.
In March 2020, there were roughly around 1,500 Indian students in Italy, according to the ministry of external affairs. The total number of Indians in Italy has been estimated at 200,000, the largest Indian diaspora in Continental Europe.
Many Indian students choose Italy for super-specialised fashion and design focused post-graduate courses and luxury brand management courses as the European country is home to several well-known designer houses. Through internships and summer jobs, students can get an exposure to such luxury brands and designers.
There are several prominent universities offering courses especially in the field of architecture and design, UI/UX design, new technologies, agriculture, conservation and restoration of cultural assets, cinema, dance, drama and advanced musical studies. The affordability factor also attracts Indian students, with the government of Italy providing a lot of financial support, stipends and scholarships to international students. Tuition fees in public universities are between €900 to €4,000 per year, while living expenses for students lie somewhere between €800 and €1,500 with shared accommodation, food, and transportation.
Since April last year, when Italy was hit hard by the pandemic, the number of Indian students dropped sharply. Now, with a stringent travel ban in place and the non-recognition of the Indian vaccines in the country, the numbers this year are likely to be very small. But many, like Varma, believe that the low cost of education, availability of scholarships and employment opportunities post graduation are long term factors which will draw Indian students back once the pandemic situation improves.
For Ambika Subhash, who went to Milan in September 2020 for a master’s degree in human resources management at the University of Milan, the scholarships and part time jobs opportunities available for international students in Italy were a big draw. And after she gets the second vaccine dose in August, she hopes to make a short trip to her hometown Bengaluru since, as a student, she has a resident permit for Italy.
However, for many Indian students who had rushed back home from Italy to be with their families during the second Covid wave in India, and others who have received admission in Italian universities in 2021, the situation is far from upbeat.
Sanjay Mishra, who was selected for a master’s program in forestry and natural resources management at the University of Padua last year, is now worried about being able to get there before his classes start on September 15. “Italy’s travel ban for India has not been lifted and students like me in north India are not even able to submit our visa applications to VFS, the agency which handles the processing of documents,” he said.”After submitting all the papers, the process of being granted a student visa could take up to three weeks.”
Mishra is also concerned over the fact that the Italian government does not recognise any of the Indian Covid-19 vaccines. Mishra — who is a recipient of the Erasmus Mundus joint master’s scholarship, which is a grant of €49,000 covering travel, tuition and personal allowance for two years — will not be able to defer his course to next year. And since his area of studies requires laboratory work, it will be tough to start online classes. Repeated emails to the Italian embassy in India and the Indian mission in Italy have not yielded much hope for him so far.
On June 18, Italy’s ministry of health extended its restrictions on travelers who have stayed or transited via India in the past 14 days till July 30. Additionally, even those exempt from the restrictions have the requirement of mandatory testing for Covid-19 and isolation at designated hotels upon arrival in Italy.
Meanwhile, on June 26, Italy had permitted its residents, or citizens with registry of resident Italians abroad, to travel to the country from India. However, there is no official update yet on the expected timeline of the travel ban being eased.

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