Exemption from travel ban is a relief for Indian students planning to join US universities

Even as the US government has announced a travel ban on India starting May 4, some categories of travellers including Indian students seeking to commence studies in American universities in the Fall semester of 2021, have been exempted under the national interest exceptions, according to the US state department. This is in keeping with the US department of state’s commitment to facilitate legitimate travel. US secretary of state Tony Blinken, decided to apply the same set of national interest exceptions to India that he had previously applied to all other regional travel restrictions currently in effect as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The exemption issued by the state department last month, is valid for students with F-1 and M-1 visas intending to begin studies in the US starting on August 1 or later.

Indian students who are looking at joining US universities in the Fall semester are relieved by the announcement on the exemption, however, with Covid-19 cases in the country continuing to rise alarmingly, overseas education plans still remain uncertain for most. “Since most students are in the age category that has become eligible for vaccination only from today, many of them are not making final plans till they get both vaccine shots in view of the pandemic crisis. Besides with the board examinations having been put on hold, students who were looking at undergraduate courses in the US are facing a lot of uncertainty and many feel the best option is to have a gap year and then firm up plans for next year,” says Adarsh Khandelwal, founder of education consultancy Collegify. On the other hand, he feels that students who are planning to join master’s courses in STEM subjects or business management are not shelving their plans for joining US universities and are relieved about being excluded from the travel ban. “Many students planning masters and MBA courses have already got acceptance letters from universities and are hoping that the US Embassy starts processing students visas a couple of months before the Fall semester starts,” he added.

Ishaan Saokar, 23, is set to join a masters programme in finance at Brandeis University near Boston in the Fall semester in September. “The exemption for students who begin studies in Fall is a big relief for me. I would like to finish my full one-and-a-half-year course on campus rather than be forced to go for online classes. And though the US Embassy and consulates are currently not issuing any visas, they will very likely issue students visas to those of us who qualify for the exemption before our courses start,” Saokar, who works for a financial services consulting company in Pune, said. He is also planning to get fully vaccinated before he leaves for the US in view of the pandemic situation in India.


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Not everyone, however, is upbeat about a smooth transit for Indian students to the US this year in view of the Covid19 crisis in the country. “The academic calendar for Indian students, especially those planning to join undergrad courses in America is looking very uncertain. The school board examinations have been postponed and the US visa operations are shut. Many families have suffered from the pandemic themselves and are putting overseas education plans on hold for now. But the fact that vaccinations in the US are progressing well and universities are starting to roll out on-campus classes again are reasons for optimism,” feels Hitesh Sharma, CEO of edTech firm Edupeer. According to the US embassy in New Delhi, the pandemic continues to limit the number of visas that embassies and consulates are able to process and applicants should check the website of the embassy for the most up-to-date information about visa appointment availability.

However, despite the current Covid19 crisis in India, overseas education remains attractive for Indian students. “The administration of President Biden is friendly towards overseas students and that is probably a reason that US education will be a bigger draw among Indians this year than the last few years,” says Akshay Chatyurvedi, founder & CEO of education counselling firm, Leverage Edu.

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