AFP/ New Delhi
India’s foreign minister has urged Australia to ease coronavirus (Covid-19) travel restrictions for thousands of students who have been unable to get into the country since the pandemic started 18 months ago.
India sends tens of thousands of students to top international universities worldwide with Australia among the key destinations.
Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar said he raised the issue “in some detail” with his Australian counterpart Marise Payne alongside talks between defence ministers from both countries dominated by Afghanistan.
“We have heard a lot from the students and I think their frustrations, their feelings, are completely understandable,” he told reporters.
“Many of them would like to be at the institutions where they want to study,” he said, adding that students are “a very high priority” for his government, which has also faced hurdles with the US and Canada.
“We have been having some problems with some other countries as well. We had initially with the US, we are still having some issues with Canada,” he added.
India also made approaches to Britain before it eased travel restrictions.
Videos of Indian medical students enrolled in China went viral recently as they pleaded with the government to help them return to their universities.
University education is now a multi-billion dollar industry and Australia is one of several countries to have aggressively campaigned to attract Indian students.
“I am one of the most enthusiastic proponents of welcoming back our much-loved Indian students back to the Australian education system as soon as it is possible for us,” Payne said at a press conference alongside Jaishankar.
She added that there were around 60,000 Indians currently studying in Australia.
“The Covid-19 restrictions have impacted travel to and from Australia, not just the students that you have raised but for Australians themselves,” she said.
However, Payne stressed that higher vaccination levels of Australians are required to “give us the confidence to begin a sort of reopening” that will enable foreign students to return.
“I look forward to being one of the people at the airport to welcome the first arrivals of Indian students coming back,” she said.
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