The Local has spoken to many Indian students and researchers stuck in limbo, with jobs or study courses lined up in France but unable to apply for a visa since the suspension began on April 27th.
However on Friday, France’s ambassador to India announce that applications were now open for student, researcher or ‘talent passport’ visas.
I’m glad to announce that all student, researcher and "Talent passport" category applicants from India can now apply for a visa to travel to France. 🇮🇳🎓✈️
Link : https://t.co/mtsrlnMOAc
— Emmanuel Lenain (@FranceinIndia) July 23, 2021
The French government has also loosened restrictions on arrivals from red list countries, including Indian, for fully-vaccinated people.
Fully vaccinated travellers no longer have to provide an ‘essential reason’ for travel, although they do still need a negative Covid test and to quarantine on arrival.
At the same time, it was announced that France would begin accepting the Covishield vaccine, the version of the AstraZenica jab which is manufactured in India and widely administered in India and Africa, for travel purposes.
“Some of us may have regrets”
Aviral*, from India, was one of many left in limbo by the suspension of visa applications.
He was due to begin a Phd research programme in Toulouse in May, but was unable to travel, and says the anxiety of not knowing what will happen has taken a toll on his mental health.
“We rejected other opportunities in order to study in France,” he said. “Some of us may have regrets about this choice.”
Those with funded research programmes risk losing out on income.
“Many of us have to support our families, and many of the post-docs even have children and spouses to support so it’s very difficult for us if we’re not being paid because we’re not accepted by the universities unless we go there physically,” said Priyanka, from Mumbai, who is expected in Paris in late August to begin studying for a PhD at Sorbonne university.
“I really do feel that India is being treated unfairly compared to the other European countries,” John*, who is due to move to France from Chennai in August to begin a PhD in geology, told The Local.
“I understand we had a really bad second wave of Covid in April, and it made sense for them to impose a travel ban in India, but right now the situation is much better.”
In India, there are currently 24 confirmed daily cases of Covid per million inhabitants, compared to 117 in France, and 665 in the UK, according to figures from Our World in Data.
France’s traffic light classification system lists red zone countries as areas where the virus is actively circulating and variants are a concern. Since the delta variant first identified in India is now widespread in France, the researchers who shared their concerns with The Local said they thought India was still suffering from bad publicity dating back to the peak of the second wave earlier this year.
“If people from the UK can come, people from India should be able to come,” added Sam*, originally from Kolkata. Sam was able to travel to France in February, before the travel ban, but his wife had to give her notice period before joining him, and is now unable to enter the country.
Above all, those affected want France to acknowledge the importance of education and research. “We are all coming here to work, we aren’t coming to see the Eiffel Tower,” Sam said.
John added: “Research and education should be considered essential travel.”
“In a way, we’ve already lost out,” Savio, from New Delhi, told The Local.
Savio is due to begin his MBA at the INSEAD business school in Fontainebleau in September, but he has already had to miss an intensive language class this summer since he was not allowed to travel.
Pranav is supposed to be joining Savio in Fontainebleau, and he admits to feeling powerless.
“We have been working towards this for years,” he said. “There have been multiple hurdles we’ve already cleared, and to have something stopping us from clearing the last hurdle, and to see that you come from a certain country which is why you don’t qualify, is mind-numbing.”
Those studying at INSEAD have already handed over a €15,000 deposit towards their tuition fees, and they already have housing lined up for August, explained Mahika, a student from India. “We didn’t have the option of not taking up housing, because even to apply for the French visa we had to show housing arrangements for at least three months.”
* Names have been changed.