indian students canada
Airlines are reportedly stopping Indian students — with flight tickets, study permit and letter from college — from boarding flights to Canada. Source: Prakash Singh/AFP

Indian airlines are reportedly turning away students from their flights to Canada, according to a report by international education news site The PIE News.

These include incidents where Indian students are denied boarding despite them having bought tickets, have study permits, and believe their travel is “non-discretionary or non-optional”.

Speaking to The PIE News, Ramanpreet Kaur, an Indian student admitted to Lambton College in Sarnia said Air India staff did not let her board the plane at the IGI Airport in Delhi.

“They checked all my documents and asked me for the Port of Entry letter, in which my college mentioned that my presence in Canada is essential,” she said.

“I was stuck there and arguing with the managers for three hours. I explained all my situation to them and showed all the documents which I had but they refused me again for boarding.”

Eight other Indian students were denied boarding, according to Kaur.

In late July, the Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) said on its website that international students with a valid study permit or were approved for a study permit on or before March 18, 2020 may enter Canada only for “non-discretionary or non-optional purpose”.

A letter advising the public health measures in place to limit the spread of COVID-19 in Canada as well as what to expect upon arrival, such as instructions for mandatory 14-day quarantine, has been sent to this group of students.

Those with a study permit approved after March 18, 2020 “may not be exempt from the travel restrictions” and “should not make any plans to travel to Canada until the travel restrictions are lifted, as they will not be allowed to travel to or enter Canada,” said IRCC.

According to Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA), 235 foreign nationals were denied entry into Canada between March 22 and July 22.

indian students canada

Stranded passengers wait in a lounge at the Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose International Airport. Source: Dibyangshu Sarkar/AFP)

Can airlines turn international students away from Canada?

While airlines are asked to assess whether foreign nationals are able to enter Canada, the final decision rests on CBSA officers.

According to a statement on the Canadian government’s website, foreign nationals with “a valid Canadian study permit as defined in section 2 of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Regulations (IRPR)” are exempt from travel restrictions if they are travelling for a non-discretionary purpose.

The “document to present to the air carrier” is “status document [IMM 1442] (the actual valid study permit document)”.

The website states “non-optional and non-discretionary purpose of travel” will be assessed based on “individual circumstances”.

These include:

  • whether they are established, residing and studying in Canada. If they are established in Canada, their return is non-discretionary
  • whether they are expected to begin studying upon arrival after completing their quarantine
  • whether their presence in Canada is necessary for their continued participation in the programme (such as in laboratories or workshops)
  • whether online studies is not an option for their school or programme or not possible from their home country (for example, due to internet restrictions or bandwidth limitation)
  • the semester has been cancelled or the person will begin studying later in the year

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