Saif Ali Khan is fully vaccinated and all set to start a postgraduate engineering course in the United States – but he’s worried. The 22-year-old from Aurangabad has received two shots of Covaxin, India ’s home-made vaccine, which the Michigan-based university does not recognise as it has not been approved by the World Health Organization nor authorised for use in the US. Students entering the US must show they tested negative for Covid-19 within 72 hours of departure, but vaccination is not mandatory. However, some universities want students living on campus to be fully inoculated, leading to growing concerns they will be required to get revaccinated – an issue Indian foreign secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla reportedly raised with acting US ambassador Daniel Smith earlier this month. “I am not keen to mix up vaccines because my body may react adversely to it,” Khan said. “I would avoid re-vaccination if the university allows it.” Khan is one of thousands of young Indians whose plans to study abroad this year have been entangled in a web of regulations, travel bans and delayed visa applications as the world reacts to India’s deadly second wave of coronavirus infections . Anuj Poddar, 25, an analytical engineer from Mumbai, is another. He plans to start a Master’s in computer science in Massachusetts, and has already quit his job – but he is still frantically trying to obtain a visa to enter the US. His appointment at the US consulate in May was cancelled because of India’s increased number of Covid-19 cases. After visa applications were reopened, Poddar spent 15 hours on the consulate’s website across five days and managed to book an appointment for August 31. He needs to be on campus by September 8 – if not, he will need to start the course online or seek permission to join late. India launches free vaccines for all adults as Modi hails benefits of yoga “For an online class, I have to pay US$50,000, the same tuition fee that I would pay for in-person classes, and pursuing the course online won’t be of much help academically,” Poddar said. “So I have been trying to look for an earlier slot so that I have enough time to book the airline tickets and join the class on time.” During the height of the pandemic last year, students from all over the world dialled in from home to learn online. Now, as universities in the US, Britain, Australia and Canada prepare to restart in-person lectures, many of India’s hundreds of thousands of international students risk being stranded. The US, for example, has limited the number of direct flights from India and banned entry for anyone who has spent 14 days in India before travelling. Students are exempt from the ban, but many have nonetheless been forced to take longer flights or unusual routes via Muscat or Belgrade. Other students enrolled in Canadian and Australian universities have not been exempt from the travel ban, meaning they must wait indefinitely before being allowed to attend classes. According to India’s Ministry of External Affairs, the number of Indians studying abroad dropped 55 per cent last year, but that has recovered this year as 72,000 students left for foreign universities in January and February. Indian companies struggle to address mental health fallout of coronavirus crisis In 2019-20, about 193,000 Indian students were attending university in the US, while more than 49,700 Indian students were issued visas to study in Britain. Sushil Sukhwani, director of overseas education consultancy Edwise International in Mumbai, thinks the successful vaccination drive in the US is one of the reasons Indian students prefer it as a destination for higher education. Meanwhile, Akshay Chaturvedi, founder of New Delhi-based university admission service Leverage Edu, said his company had been fielding 2,000 inquiries daily. “A lot of queries are about consulate appointments for visas, vaccine requirements and course dates, especially from students with confirmed admissions in place,” Chaturvedi said. Many students such as Poddar have been tallying the potential cost of further delays. “At the last minute, if I am not granted the visa, I will lose about US$3,000 – the fee for accommodation that I have to pay soon to ensure that I have a place to stay when I arrive,” he said. “The cost of airline tickets nearing September will also shoot up as more students will rush to join [classes overseas].” Preeti J., 23, from Jamshedpur spent more than three years looking for the right postgraduate course and university before enrolling to study financial engineering in California. She has been unable to make a booking to apply for a visa, even though her course starts in August. “I have taken a loan of US$60,590 to pursue the course and I plan to pay off my loan [as soon as possible] by starting to work there after completion of the course,” she said. “If I cannot start the course [on time] … I will have to waste one year academically and professionally.” Meanwhile, in Australia, even Indian students holding valid visas are unable to enter. According to Sydney-based H.S., who asked to be identified by his initials, his niece from India’s Punjab state paid A$15,920 (US$11,900) for the first term of an undergraduate IT course at an Australian university and her student visa is valid until 2024. Even so, the Australian government has banned Indians from entering the country, so she will be unable to attend her course, which starts next month. His niece asked the university to defer her enrolment until September. In response, H.S. said, the university asked her to repay A$4,000 in scholarship funds, which they said obligated her to attend in person from July. H.S. asked: “Why should she be penalised because the country has banned entry for Indians?” Preeti from Jamshedpur, who is also a Covid-19 survivor, cannot help but be frustrated by the situation. “At a time when every minute is crucial, this indefinite wait and uncertain future looks worse than the pandemic,” she said.