Many Indian-American families separated due to US travel ban

Washington: Several families in the US find themselves separated from their loved ones more than 13,000 kms away across two continents as the Biden administration’s ban on travellers from India in view of the unprecedented second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic in the country has come into effect.

In some cases, the main earning member of the family has been left stranded in India, with no way to rejoin their spouses and kids in the US while in some other instances, mothers have been separated from their young children as one of the unintended consequences of the travel ban announced by President Joe Biden last week.

The proclamation signed by Biden on April 30 came into effect on May 4.

Certain categories of students, academics, journalists and individuals have been exempted from the ban, according to the US State Department.

The travel ban is for an indefinite period given the major outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in India.

Some of these people say that they are now stuck in India for an indefinite period as the American consulates have also been shut down.

“My husband who has been on H-1B since 2008 had to travel to India on April 17 to be with his dying father and to perform last rites.

Since then, the US embassy in India has been closed. Although he has an approved H-1B visa, he needs visa stamping on his passport and also to attend an in-person interview at the US mission in Delhi,” Neha Mahajan, co-founder of Skilled Immigrants in America, told PTI.

“I am here with our two daughters who miss their dad during this extremely hard time for the family in the middle of this pandemic,” she said.

Nashville-based Payal Raj said that she has no idea when and how will she get back from India to be with her nine-year-old child.

“The bans are specifically targeted towards non-immigrants and their families and looking at the history of other country’s bans, this could go on for months or even a year.

“There are thousands of people stuck with heart-breaking stories of coming here to attend to dying parents and then getting stuck due to the bans and not able to go back to their kids and spouses,” Raj told PTI from India.

Abhinav Amresh finds himself stranded in Mumbai away from his kids because the US Consulate in Mumbai has been shut down as a result of which he cannot get his H-1B visa stamped.

The next available appointment that he is now getting is for September.

Unless his visa is stamped, he cannot return to the US.

“The kids have never been away from their father for so long and the passing of their beloved grandmother and even their dad being away is already putting them under a lot of stress. Wife and I are primary caregivers for the kids and share all household responsibilities. Also, I am the main driver at home to bring groceries, take kids to their doctor (they have a visit and vaccination due) and all regular things,” Amresh said.

The whole situation is becoming very stressful, he said.

“My only question to the authorities is – despite the exceptions in travel ban, there are many people like me with young US citizen kids who had to travel on family emergencies but do not have a valid visa stamping. How can they come back to the US and unite with their family? This is a humanitarian crisis and child rights issue and if travel ban means visa ban then why not say so,” he said.

Utkarsha Hazarnis, who has been in the US since 2013 and now stranded in India as his visa cannot be stamped due to the closure of the US consulate, urged the Biden administration to take active steps for those who have jobs in the US and are currently stuck in India.

“Active measures and alternatives should be worked on to help such cases,” he said.

He had travelled to India to see his ailing father in Mumbai.

Another Indian-American, who requested anonymity, said that she has no clue when the consulates would open.

“We have no clue when this proclamation will end. We are not able to meet our families due to the fear of getting stuck over there in India. Of course, nobody is stopping us now, but we bought a house here. Our kids are studying here for five years

“This is not an easy situation for us to handle,” she said.

Hemanth Modadugu was supposed to travel to India for H-1B stamping and get married in May 2020.

However, he had to cancel.

He left the US for India in April.

“I left Seattle on April 24. I reached Doha and within the next 10 minutes, I received an email that all visa appointments are cancelled. I cannot return to the US without stamping. So, I continued my journey to India. Even if I had a hint of appointment cancellation while in the US, I would have tried to cancel my trip,” he said.

“Now, on top of visa appointment cancellation, we received the news of a travel ban. Why leave H-1B visa holders or those who came to India for stamping from exemptions?” Hemanth asked.

The new travel restrictions have been imposed for an indefinite period and will require another presidential proclamation to end it.

India is struggling with an unprecedented second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic with more than 3,00,000 daily new coronavirus cases being reported in the past one week.

According to Indian health ministry data on Wednesday, a record 3,780 fresh COVID-19 fatalities were registered in a single day in India, taking the death toll to 2,26,188, while 3,82,315 new coronavirus infections were recorded.

With the fresh cases, the total tally of COVID-19 cases in the country climbed to 2,06,65,148.