Indian students and citizens arriving in the UK continue to receive inferior treatment. Does India’s ‘special’ friendship with UK really matter?

Shefali Saxena and Rupanjana Dutta Tuesday 27th July 2021 12:28 EDT

India’s Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla who was in the UK for a two-day visit last week to discuss global issues and the implementation of Roadmap 2030, told Asian Voice that he has raised the issue of India continuing on the Red List, even after daily cases have fallen below UK’s current numbers. 

Mr Shringla told us, “During my meetings, I briefed (the UK authorities) on the Covid-19 situation in India. It was also pointed out that France is allowing visitors from India without quarantine if they are double vaccinated. I also told them that in the US, which has various travel schemes or levels, India has gone up by one notch. So, I encourage UK to do the same. And I think they took notice.”

At the moment, people returning from ‘Red List’ countries, such as India need to quarantine in hotels for 10 days, which costs £1750 per person. However, UK Ministers are now trying to increase the price of hotel quarantine to £2,250, according to recent reports.

Lest we forget, Indian Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman and Minister of Textiles Piyush Goyal are due to visit the UK from India and UK ministers are due to visit India likewise. However, despite the lengthy list of tasks and strategies surrounding the UK-India Living Bridge, Indo-Pacific alliance, health summits, COP26 and Roadmap 2030, ahead of India’s 75th Independence Day in August, the UK-India partnership seems to be no work all play. Students and citizens arriving from India have shared numerous accounts of difficulties they’ve faced while coming back to the UK, which leaves enough room to ponder whether India’s ‘special’ friendship with the UK, is entirely one-sided?

Secretary Shringla has also urged countries to recognise India’s vaccine certification on a mutual reciprocal basis, recognising the integrity of that process. Soon after his visit, a  new ‘high potential individual’ visa route is reportedly going to be introduced by the UK could attract more highly skilled Indians to the country. “Under the new visa programme announced last week, applicants meeting certain criteria can enter the UK on a work permit without having a valid job offer,” Economic Times reported.

Students are being forced to pay this amount by virtue of India being on the red list

NISAU UK Founder and Chairperson Sanam Arora listed the issues pertaining to students who are arriving in the UK from red list countries, especially because many of them are starting their new courses this August. 

She told Asian Voice, “There is significant stress and anxiety amongst the Indian student community on this topic. Firstly, as we have repeatedly raised, students are finding it extremely hard to pay the £1750 (nearly 200,000 INR) required for the mandatory hotel quarantine. This is bad enough for all students but particularly true of the current students for whom the charge was unexpected and unplanned. 

“It is also these students who must be in the country latest by 27 September in order to be eligible to apply for the Post Study Work visa which was a key reason a lot of them chose to come to the UK!”

Sanam worries that these students are being forced to pay this amount by virtue of India being on the Red List or are forced to let go of the post-study work visa if they can't afford to be in the country. She argued why they can't quarantine on university campuses where the net economic impact to them will be a lot lower. 


‘Jab’-saw puzzle

Although the vaccines minister has said that the government will recognise UK-authorised jabs given overseas from next month, with incoming students, the big question is the uncertainty around whether India will still be on Red List in September? 

One cannot overlook the fact that UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s visit to India is slated sometime in the same month and Indian PM Narendra Modi will arrive in Glasgow in November for COP26. While the UK grapples with vaccine approval for ‘made in India’ vaccines, it is imperative to note that PM Modi has taken two jabs of Bharat BioTech’s Covaxin which is yet to be approved by the WHO, let alone the UK or US. 

Addressing the issue surrounding the vaccine, Sanam said, “There also doesn't appear to be enough clarity on the vaccine situation. International students are eligible to get the Covid vaccine from the NHS when they arrive since they have already paid the Immigration Health Surcharge, but what about those who have had the vaccine already?” 

“What about those who have taken a vaccine-like Covaxin which isn't approved in the UK yet? It's also quite confusing why Covishield is not being considered on par with Astrazenica's vaccine in the UK?” she asks.  

Sanam told Asian Voice that around 90,000 students will arrive from red list countries and might need to be quarantined in hotels in September. “Where is the capacity? How will this be managed? I hope we get very timely answers to these questions and a significant reduction or waiver of this astronomical 1750 hotel bill!” Sanam exclaimed. 


£1750 too much for students 

Jetal Zala, a student at the University of Stirling is currently quarantining at a hotel in London after returning from India. Speaking to us about the shortcomings of quarantine, she said, “The Wi-Fi connection has failed to meet the satisfaction as being a student, we must attend the classes online and study. Being a vegetarian, I don’t eat eggs and thus the meal choices provided to us contain eggs and we are left with no other option. 

During this time, home-cooked food, which I carried way back from home feels like a blessing. Thankfully, I was able to share the quarantine cost with one of my friends which cuts down our cost to £1200 each rather than paying £1750 each. It is still “too much” for us as we are students in the UK. We have opted for deferred payment which allows us to pay the amount monthly thus lessening our burden of paying the whole amount at once, given the condition that we should be already an existing student holding a British Residence Permit (BRP card).”


Vegetarians in trouble

Zala is sharing her quarantine room with Jil Sheth who is pursuing PhD in Urban Studies at Heriot-Watt University.  Sheth said, “Compulsory quarantine at that, despite taking two vaccine shots already. The price of which is sky high, with around £1,750 per person which might increase by £500 soon. Spending 10 days in quarantine is not a cakewalk. It sometimes feels suffocating to not open the windows. Though, we are allowed a monitored outdoor activity for around 20 minutes a day. Despite repeatedly mentioning food allergies, we are bombarded with food containing the allergens. I had checked horrific reviews about quarantine accommodations before and thus brought some essential food with me. The refrigerator is disconnected, stating Covid guidelines as an excuse.  The hotel had no dental kit or soaps. Laundry is limited to 7 small pieces for 10 days of accommodation. Sometimes, the food packs don’t even have their contents mentioned. Thankfully, I chose to share accommodation with a friend, which at least gives me some company, which reduced our cost of stay (£2400 total). The Wi-Fi here is so slow that we can barely attend meetings or video calls. Services are not par to the cost borne by the qurantiners. It feels like being punished for living in so-called red list countries despite having fewer cases in those countries as compared to that in the UK.”


If you have a home, you should be allowed to isolate there instead

Lady Kishwar Desai and her husband Lord Meghnad Desai were in quarantine at a hotel when she spoke to Asian Voice last week. A disgruntled and worried Lady Desai said that both she and her husband had taken RT-PCR tests before leaving India and after reaching and have still tested negative. The Desais have a home in the UK which Lady Desai said is “fairly isolated” with no one living there other than two of them.

“I do believe that when you have a home in the UK, and if you have room to isolate there, then you should be given a choice to go home. Given my husband's age, health and need to be on a certain type of diet, it is impossible to find that in a quarantine hotel. Somebody needs to look into it because we do not eat so much salt and sugar in food, but there are no other alternatives available!” she told the newsweekly. 

 “It is not possible for us to have a one size fits all kind of diet,” she added. “If you are elderly or suffer from health issues such as hypertension or diabetes, then the government should allow you to go and quarantine at home. 

“I would strongly advise the government to consider it. Instead of giving a blanket rule to everybody, anyone over the age of 60 or 65 should be allowed to go home, because they need to exercise properly and eat the food they can actually digest, something that goes with their daily required medications.” 

By next Tuesday, a revised list of Red List countries will be released by the UK government. While the British aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth (RO8) has reached India most likely, the ship of inferior treatment of Britons towards Indians hasn’t sailed. The taboo remains. 

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