Lakhs of Indian students who plan on pursuing higher education in Canada are in the wait-and-watch mode with diplomatic relations between the two counties plummeting to new depths following Ottawa’s allegation of New Delhi’s involvement in the murder of Khalistani terrorist Hardeep Singh Nijjar.
India has rejected the allegations as “absurd” and “motivated” and expelled a senior Canadian diplomat in a tit-for-tat move to Ottawa’s expulsion of an Indian official. India has also suspended visa services for Canadians.
Despite zero improvement in the situation for more than a week, most students don’t wish to change their choice of destination to another country and are ready to “wait it out” for the next few months, say consulting firms who help students plan overseas education.
According to the consultants, September is the time of the year that sees the highest student intake across universities and colleges in Canada. The month is nearly over but students who have paid up their application fee and were just awaiting visas have been the worst-hit.
Akshay Chaturvedi, founder and chief executive officer (CEO) of Leverage Edu, one of the largest study-abroad consulting firms in the country, said that the initial panic has started to settle down, but uncertainty looms large until there is a pro-active communication from the Canadian universities on their strategy. While many universities have sent emails and posted alerts on their websites assuring the safety of students, there has been no word on processing of visa applications.
“There are three sets of students who are affected by the ongoing tension between the two countries. First, those who are already in Canada; second, those who are all paid up and awaiting visas; and third, those planning to go in the next intake, which is January-February,” said Chaturvedi, whose firm has tie-ups with banks and other financial institutions to help students study abroad.
“The worst-hit are those in the second category, as their fee, which is around Rs 1.5 lakh-2 lakh, has been paid, but there has been no communication from the universities and colleges on whether they will refund the fee in case students plan to apply to higher education institutions in other countries or if the same can be carried forward to the next intake if and when the situation settles down.”
Most students aspiring to go to Canada, he said, are from middle-income backgrounds and the application fee is an important concern for them. Interestingly, most students still don’t wish to change their destination of study and are hopeful of a resolution soon.
“We will not take any student applications for Canada until the government issues fresh directives for travel to Canada. We have been advising students to apply to universities in UK and US instead. But many students still want to watch out for the next few months, hoping that the political standoff will ease by then,” Chaturvedi added.
Post-pandemic, say consultants, there has been a massive uptick in the number of students applying for Canada, as colleges there are still affordable and work permits are easier as compared to others. The highest uptick of students though has been for the UK after it introduced post-study work visa rules last year, allowing international students to work in the country for two years upon graduation.
Leverage Edu, among many other prominent consultancies, stopped accepting applications for Canadian higher education institutions soon after the central government issued a travel advisory on September 20 for those contemplating travel to Canada, citing it as “unsafe” amid “anti-India activities”.
The advisory was rejected by the Justin Trudeau government, saying Canada was “calm” and “safe” for all. While India has suspended issuance of visas to Canadian nationals, so far there have been no changes in visa rules for Indian students applying to universities and colleges in Canada.
According to consultancy firms, every year, 2.5 lakh-3 lakh students apply to Canadian universities and colleges, of whom at least 70% are from Punjab.
“Most students wanting to go to Canada are for post-graduation so that they can enrol in a college or a university and are able to get a work visa there. There are many colleges in Canada that are just run for enrolling as many international students who end up working there without engaging in serious studies,” said another consultant who did not wish to be named.
Tushar Sharma, an electrical engineer from Gujarat, who wanted to pursue Masters’ in food and nutrition technology from a university in Canada, said that he was to receive the offer letter from the university he had applied to, but it got stuck because of the recent situation.
“I was all set to go this October, but now that it has been delayed, I will wait till April next year to apply again. There has been no word from the university so far on the next course of action. I am not applying anywhere else at the moment.”