Indian students with valid visas in UK’s travel ‘red list’ exception

Indian students with valid visas in UK’s travel ‘red list’ exception
Courtesy: Reuters

Indian students with valid visas to study at UK universities will be among those that qualify as residents, even if they are yet to collect their Biometric Residence Permits (BRPs), and will be allowed to enter Britain under the 10-day compulsory hotel quarantine, which comes into force from April 24.

The UK government clarification addresses widespread confusion and panic among hundreds of students who were preparing to either renew their classes or begin a new semester in the coming weeks when India was added to Britain’s Covid-19 travel “red list”, which imposes a ban on entry to the country for all except British and Irish residents.

India’s red list status came amid a devastating spike in coronavirus infections in the country and also resulted in UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson cancelling his planned visit to New Delhi next week. The ban means that those with valid residency rights returning to the UK after the deadline on Friday face the additional financial burden of compulsory hotel quarantine and tests costs, estimated at around £2,000 per person.

Urgent queries

The National Indian Students and Alumni Union UK (NISAU-UK) were inundated with messages and queries from Indian students, some of whom had travelled back to India during the Easter break.

“There's a fair amount of confusion in the Indian community about the rules and what these mean for them. Significant concern is being raised about the cost of quarantine as well as how the new restrictions impact student eligibility for the Graduate visa route for which they need to be in country by particular dates,” said NISAU UK Chair Sanam Arora.

The Home Office had already extended the deadline period for the physical campus presence requirements for students to be able to apply for the new Graduate or post-study work visa later this year. However, many are now not only concerned if that extension until June-end will suffice but also the added financial burden that the quarantine requirements add to their budgeted costs for an international degree.

Student organisations are following up with the authorities to try and work out some student concessions to the exorbitant hotel quarantine costs for students.

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Precautionary basis

Addressing a briefing at 10 Downing Street in London this week, Boris Johnson said the decision to add India to the red list was taken independently by the Joint Biosecurity Centre (JBC) on a precautionary basis because the so-called Indian variant of Covid-19 is yet to be classified as a variant of concern. He reiterated that the reason the 103 cases of the variant had been detected quickly in the UK was the result of already fairly stringent measures in place for all international travellers entering the country.

“The Indian variant is still just a variant under investigation, not a variant of concern,” he said, adding that experts are currently looking carefully to see if there is any sign the variant B.1.617 can “escape the effect of vaccines”.

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Help in place

“The core of my concern about the variant first found in India is that the vaccines may be less effective in terms of transmission and of reducing hospitalisation and death. It is the same concern that we have with the variant first found in South Africa and is the core reason why we took the [travel ban] decision,” UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock told MPs in the House of Commons.

Jonathan Ashworth, shadow health secretary and Labour MP from Leicester – a city with a large Indian diaspora population, raised concerns about his constituents with ties to the region who would need to return to their homes.

“I hope that there will be support and help in place for constituents such as mine who are legally in India and want to return,” he said.

There has been an understandable last-minute scramble among such British Indians who had travelled to India, with Tickets to India among the many travel companies working on organising chartered flights to bring hundreds of them back to the UK ahead of the travel ban.

Those who return ahead of the red list classification are still required to complete compulsory passenger locator forms and self-isolate at home, with two further Covid-19 tests conducted on arrival as part of the National Health Service (NHS) track and trace system.

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