What has the India flight ban achieved?

Sabrina Almeida

Does the ban on direct flights from India mean much given the fact that certain travellers can enter Canada from a third country?

The federal government would like us to believe that the ban helped postpone the fourth wave while giving Canada time to get those shots into as many arms as it could.  Some of this is true. But there are policy experts who believe that Ottawa’s pandemic border strategy has been flawed from the start. They say it has proven to be ineffective and is there only to give the appearance that something is being done. Little or no effort has been made to plug the loopholes.

If you are aware of how many Indian students are entering Canada via a third country during the flight ban, you might agree with this point of view.

Also, rewind to when news broke about travel via a third country being a loophole exploited by Indian students. Isn’t it ironic that Canada legalized it rather than plug the hole?

This brings the question about whether Doug Ford’s call to temporarily stop international students from coming into Ontario would have made more sense?

Politicians play on the philosophy that things could have been so much worse without their half-baked initiatives, but the reality is that it could also have been so much better if the approach was different.

What Canadians really feel about the India flight ban depends on whether one is personally affected by it.

Those stuck, or whose family members were stuck, in India during the first and second waves of COVID-19  worried about when they would be able to come home and at what price. The ground reality is that the cost of traveling from India to Canada via a third country might be the only thing preventing them from returning.

A couple from British Columbia shared that they paid $12,000 for their return fare from India. The gruelling 7-day journey via Paris, Mexico and Montreal left them financially, physically, and emotionally spent. The wife didn’t have a work-from-home option and the husband had underlying medical conditions, so they couldn’t wait it out indefinitely.

There are many who have endured similar journeys and are miffed with the Canadian government for leaving them stranded. While there were no repatriation flights during India’s recent COVID tsunami, even those during the first wave were few and costly. 

One might argue that Canadians were advised against non-essential travel, but many who are stuck in India went there before the pandemic struck or because of a family emergency. India’s consequent lockdown on international air travel followed by a brutal second wave and flight ban by other countries has made it almost impossible for them to return.

Whether or not the flight restrictions make sense from a public health point of view means little when you are concerned for your safety and desperately trying to find your way home.

The couple mentioned above were upset about all the hoops they had to jump through but so relieved to be back. They said they would have paid anything to return.

A feeling that seems to be shared by hundreds of Indian students desperately trying to come to Canada via Mexico, Paris, Frankfurt, Amsterdam, Doha, and any other route that they can find.

A friend whose daughter will begin a postgraduate course in a GTA college in September will be spending almost as much as the Canadian couple to fly her in from Mumbai. This includes a 14-day hotel quarantine in the third country she has chosen to make her journey through and first-class airfare (the only ticket available) from there. The family is willing to spend any amount to get her here. A Canadian PR status two or three years hence will make it all worth it. Other Indian students have the same motivation for spending thousands of dollars to enter Canada.

Several months ago, Indian media floated the idea that PR would be expedited for international students in Canada. We were inundated with calls from friends asking if this was true. This is the hope that is keeping international students here and encouraging others to make the journey no matter what the cost is.

As I balked at the expense of getting her daughter to Toronto, my friend mentioned there were other Indian parents who were traveling with their kids to the third country to ensure they boarded the flight to Canada!!! 

So, it appears that the ban on direct flights from India has only worked in preventing cash-strapped Canadian citizens and permanent residents from returning home.

Reports revealed that July saw the most infected arrivals during the pandemic. The United States topped the list followed by Mexico, Amsterdam, Paris, Doha, Frankfurt, and the United Arab Emirates. Most of these are routes that the Indian students use to get to Canada.

Does the policy serve the purpose? Minimally, perhaps!

Who has benefitted from the ban? Travel agents and hotels offering packages for Indian students traveling to Canada via a third country. They’re probably hoping the ban is extended.

In the meanwhile Canadians have learned that educational tourism and immigration are a priority for the government even during a devastating pandemic.

So what else is new?




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