Karnataka

Uncertainty over return to U.S. haunts non-immigrants stuck in India

Vinayak, 27, a computer engineer, who has been working in California in the U.S. on a H1B visa since 2018, came down to Bengaluru last month to attend to his ailing mother after she tested positive for COVID-19 and was admitted to a hospital. But, his plans to return have been thwarted by the travel restrictions from India imposed by the U.S. administration, covering most non-immigrants, in the light of the sharp surge in COVID-19 cases.

“Due to the travel ban, I am stuck here indefinitely even though I have a valid visa stamping,” said Mr. Vinayak, while expressing fears about losing his job if the company he works for did not wish to continue employing him remotely. “The unsureness of situation has been giving me anxiety attacks and I haven’t slept peacefully in the last week. Seeing me anxious has also taken a toll on my mother’s health,” he said.

Mr. Vinayak is just one of the hundreds of non-immigrants working in the U.S. or their family members, who are stuck in Bengaluru and different parts of the country due to the Presidential Proclamation 10199 of April 30, 2021, that suspends the entry of non-immigrants, who were present in India during 14-day period preceding their attempted entry into the U.S.

Antara, mother of a 22-month-old baby, arrived in India along with her husband in March 2021 when the COVID-19 cases were low, to be with her ageing parents in Ranchi for a few days. While her husband managed to return to the U.S. before the travel restrictions were announced, she and her son are unable to rejoin him.

The travel restrictions by the Proclamation were followed by the temporary suspension of routine visa services. Ms. Antara now needs to wait for the consulates to reopen for appointments so that she can get her visa stamped. “My baby keeps asking for his Papa. He plays with a picture of his father, who is thousands of miles away. This sight breaks my heart,” she told The Hindu over phone.

A petition started on change.org asking U.S. President Joe Biden to “allow non-immigrant visaholders stuck in India to return to the U.S.” has received support from not only non-immigrant visaholders stuck in India, but also a large number of their family members and relatives in the U.S. from whom they had been separated.

“My husband went to attend his mother’s funeral and he got stuck in India due to closure of visa services and also travel ban. I am here with my two young kids and lot of monthly commitments and no job, salary (sic). Please lift travel ban and resume visa appointments ASAP,” wrote Himabindu Penikalapati on the petition.

The petition started earlier this month, having signatures of more than 7,200 on Wednesday, has made an “urgent request” to the “US consulates to consider deploying contingency non-immigrant visa services for work-visa holders, and their dependants to review and accommodate the massive application backlog. Provisions such as mail-in processing of non-immigrant visas and/or virtual interview appointments may be a way to expedite this process”.

“Allow a conditional travel ban exemption for non-immigrant (H1B/H4/L1/L2) visa holders with an approved and valid petition from USCIS, with mandatory provisions of a negative RT-PCR test, 14-day quarantine and vaccination proof etc. that have already been extended to international students, greencard holders, and U.S. citizens travelling from India at present,” the petition has requested.

A spokesperson for the U.S. consulate general in Chennai said all routine visa appointments at the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi and consulates in Chennai, Hyderabad, Kolkata, and Mumbai had been cancelled, but added that the cancellations were due to COVID-19 and unrelated to the Presidential Proclamation 10199.

Apart from students and certain academics participating in J-1 exchange visitor programs starting August 2021 or later, who are exempted from the Presidential Proclamation, workers, who are seeking to provide vital support for critical infrastructure sectors in the US may qualify for National Interest Exception, as may their dependants, the spokesperson said, adding that information regarding the same can be obtained from https://in.usembassy.gov/visas/national-interest-exception-frequently-asked-questions/.

The spokesperson also said that “non-immigrant visa holders (including H1-B holders) who are not subject to Presidential Proclamation 10199 based on their familial relationship to a U.S. citizen or Legal Permanent Resident spouse or unmarried minor child do not need a National Interest Exception. Such travellers should bring proof of the qualifying relationship to present to airline officials when initiating travel to the United States”.


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Printable version | Jun 17, 2021 11:50:36 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/karnataka/uncertainty-over-return-to-us-haunts-non-immigrants-stuck-in-india/article34544010.ece

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