Picture for illustrative purposes - at arrivals in Dubai Airport Image Credit: Gulf News Archives

Dubai: Expat students from the UAE studying abroad are feeling stranded as they are unable to return home with the freeze on entry visas set to come into effect from March 17 as a precaution to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

This happens to be the case with many male students of Indian origin in the UAE, who had to relinquish their residency visas to instead opt for a UAE visa on arrival facility, which is offered to those with UK, US or Canadian visas.

Female students studying in these countries continue to hold residency visas under their fathers’ sponsorship, while boys over the age of 18 have to apply separately for residency visas, and many have instead opted to get UAE visas on arrival each time they return.

Now however, they won’t be able to avail of UAE visas on arrival from March 17 until further notice, and with some universities vacating dormitories the students have literally nowhere to go as even if they return to India - where their parents aren’t based - they could be subject to 14-days in quarantine.

I cannot return to my UAE home with the current visa freeze

Prabal B, a masters student from Toronto University, Gulf News: “I am in Canada on permanent residence and have an Indian Passport. All my life I have lived in the UAE and moved to Toronto last Fall. My parents, my home and my friends are in Dubai. I was using the visa on arrival facility so far to enter the UAE. Unfortunately with the visa freeze, I have no option but to feel stranded here. University has initiated remote learning and online classes could be pursued from back home. However, now I cannot return to Dubai. I have a few cousins in India but there too I will be subject to 14-day quarantine. Having no choice but to stay back here in times like this is a bit stressful. As of now I am coping but am worried if this continues and I am unable to return home for summer, it might get difficult to manage alone.”

Parents whose children are stranded in different parts of the world are trying not to panic and are hoping the crisis will blow over soon.

Stranded in Italy

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Left to right: Angshuman, Sanchita, Piyanjali and Captain Suprotik Guha Image Credit: Supplied

Priyanjali Guha, 23, daughter of Dubai-based couple Sanchita and Captain Suprotik Guha is currently stranded in Florence. A masters student in Fashion at a Florence–based university she is caught in a lock-down. Her father told Gulf News: “My daughter shares an apartment with another Italian and Japanese student and with everything closed around her, she is currently staying put and attending the online classes as the entire university is closed. They have a grocery next door and are allowed to go one individual at a time with masks and gloves to buy provisions. We have written to the Indian embassy and threre is a flight from Rome to India but she cannot reach Rome owing to the lockdown. We are hoping the situation improves soon,” said Captain Guha.

Speaking to Gulf News from her Florence apartment, Priyanjali said: “Everything is so surreal. I feel like I am going through the pages of my history book, reading about an disastrous pandemic that engulfed the whole world in the year 2020. In accordance with the decree issued by the Italian government we are meant to stay inside our homes under all circumstances and pay a hefty fine if we are less than 1-metre from each other.

“Locked inside four walls, all I can think about is how I would not mind my disposition if only the address of my house arrest read JLT, Dubai. My home, where my mother, father, little brother and my oblivious pup is.

All I do now is sit here in Italy, looking at the police patrolling the foreign streets, praying that my family and everyone else is safe; all the while, secretly dreaming about my mum’s food with the hope that some flight is ready to take me home.”

Anghshuman, who is an undergraduate student at Manipal University, India who was able to return to Dubai said, “As soon as my college declared holidays, I debated with myself about taking the risk to fly back home to Dubai or stay back. I am relieved I was able to come back and be with my family in a situation like this and be a comfort to my parents. My next concern after India announced a lock-down is how I will return to my university. Having my sister in Italy at the epi-centre of the breakout has me worried for her safety.”

Status quo safer for the time-being

Most parents in Dubai are worried about the well-being of their children studying abroad but agree that at the moment it seems a safer bet to maintain status quo.

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Arpita Bhattacharya and son Snehal Image Credit: Supplied

Snehal Bhattacharya a second year student pursuing engineering at the Toronto University told Gulf News: “As of now my parents and I think it is best that I continue to stay in the apartment on campus. Right now all classes are being held through remote learning and we also will have a Spring break soon. But I will feel homesick after April 30 when I am due to be back home in Dubai for summers. I hope, by then the worst will be over and international travel sanctions will be lifted.”

Arpita Bhattacharya, his mother, said she would have preferred to have her son back home in Dubai and is praying for a quick resolution to this global health crisis.

Pray the lockdown gets over soon

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Pompy Das with her son Rohit Das Image Credit: Supplied

Pompi Das’ son Rohit Das, a third year civil engineering student at the Universtiy of California, Davis, told Gulf News he is required to be in campus owing to laboratory practicals, although all other classes were being held remotely. “We are following social distancing guidelines, and the University has advised against international travel.”

NAT Bhavna with her son Pulatsya Choudhary-1584279334648
Bhavna with her son Pulatsya Choudhary Image Credit: Supplied

Pulatsya Chaudhary in the final year undegraduates at the Heriott Watt University in Edinburgh was thankful he had a residence visa for UAE and would travel once it was deemed safe. “ His mother Bhavana Chaudhary told Gulf News: “The dormitories at Heriott Watt were open but we have just learnt the univeristy is shutting everything down. We are working on deadline before the March 17 visa freeze deadline to get my son back by March 16 night. He is tryign to put is stuff in storage as we speak and we hope he is able to return home safe and sound.”

Gulf News contacted the Federal Authority for Identity and Citizenship for a comment on how students on visa on arrival can return home and are awaiting their response.

Dubai Airport announced on Sunday that the temporary visa suspension does not apply to passengers holding passports from; Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brunei, Bulgaria, Canada, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hong Kong, Hungary, Iceland, Italy (from Rome only), Japan, Latvia, Liechenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Malta, Monaco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, San Marino, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, The Vatican, UK and the USA.

These passengers can continue to travel to and from the UAE although they may be subject to additional screening.