In early April, Payal Raj accompanied his family to India to restore visas that allow them to live in the United States. She and her husband waited until they were vaccinated, carefully preparing their paperwork according to the advice of their immigration attorneys. But the visa itself soon sealed her indefinitely in India, separating her from her husband-daughter in Hendersonville, Tennessee.
“Our family is in crisis,” said Raj, one of thousands of remaining immigrants to India, in part because most Biden administration restrictions on travel from the country mean that temporary visa holders are barred from entering the United States directly. “Every morning is a struggle.”
As restrictions, issued as a devastating wave of coronavirus cases, have taken a toll on India in recent weeks, barring Rajin and others like him from returning to their homes, families and jobs in the United States. Even those banned are in limbo as the outbreak forces the US embassy and consulates to close, leaving many homeless.
Raj’s husband, Yogesh Kumar, the multinational corporation’s chief operating officer, lives in the United States on an H-1B visa or with the temporary permission of a high-tech foreign worker. As a dependent, Raj և their daughter has H-4 visas that allow temporary workers to bring in immediate family և must be renewed every three years at an embassy or consulate outside the United States.
Kumar and his daughter, Saanvi Kumar, extended their visas, but Raji was asked to provide biometric information, complete an in-person interview, both of which were due to end before the travel restrictions took effect two weeks ago.
As a staple breadwinner, Kumar said her employer would not allow her to work endlessly from India, given that some aspects of her job require personal interaction. He returned to Tennessee with Saanwi, leaving Raj in Bangalore.
“If she quits her job, we will have no way to support ourselves,” Raj said of her husband, whose income she supports like their parents. “But in the midst of all this, I am sitting here, away from my family, because I do not know for months. Years. “
The White House has not responded to questions about travel restrictions from India, but a State Department spokesman described them as “appropriate health measures” that could be “effective” in overcoming the coronavirus.
“The epidemic is a global problem; it will not end for anyone until it is over for everyone,” the statement said.
Critics say travel ban exceptions apply unequally and still threaten the spread of the virus. For example, American citizens և permanent residents can travel freely, while people who are fully vaccinated, negative or quarantined before the flight և can not. The administration did not specify when or under what conditions it would lift the restrictions.
“They applied the same blanket ban to India that they used under the Trump administration,” said Greg Siskind, an immigration lawyer who is suing the Biden administration over the State Department’s failure to issue entry-level visas. “It was the same kind of ban that President Biden said was ineffective last March, it was a bad idea.”
The United States has restricted entry from a number of countries, but the latest ban has had a disproportionate impact on Indians in the United States, given that Indian citizens require more than two-thirds of the annual H-1B visas issued. Including those who do not have other types of immigrant visas, immigration lawyers estimate that thousands of Indians living in the United States have been affected.
Some traveled to India when coronavirus cases were low to extend visas or to visit family. Others went to care for sick or dying relatives. Some are now unable to secure even urgent appointments to extend their visas at the Embassy in New Delhi or any of the four US consulates in India.
In late April, Gaurav Chauhan traveled to Agra to care for his father, who was hospitalized with the coronavirus. He is now divorced from his wife and two children living in Atlanta.
As a parent of underage American citizens, Chauhan was exempt from the ban, but he was unable to schedule an emergency visit to the State Department website to extend his visa. His employer, a software company, has temporarily allowed Chauhan, a human resources worker, to work abroad. But others in such situations say they have been asked to quit their jobs.
“If you are sure that in two or three months everything will be fine, we are going to issue a visa, you at least have a schedule when you are going to visit your family,” Chauhan said. “But uncertainty is what kills us.”
Since the beginning of the epidemic, the closure of the US Embassy and Consulate has severely curtailed the visa process. At the beginning of April, 76% of consulates were still completely or partially closed, according to the State Department, a data analyst at the Kato Institute, a liberal research center.
Such cuts should not stop visa processing, Siskind said, pointing to other immigration agencies that have successfully adapted to remote work, with the exception of submitting documents in person.
“One of the problems with the State Department over the last 14 months is their lack of imagination on how to change their procedures in the face of an epidemic,” Siskind said. “They, for example, did not conduct a video interview, which is their statutory authority.”
The State Department acknowledged that “services at US outposts in India are” limited, but said it would “continue to pursue certified patent assignments.” The department could not provide a clear timeline for when other visa services would begin.
Abhiram, a professor in Broward County, Florida, whose wife and 3-year-old daughter stay out of Hyderabad after visiting family in January, said he did not blame the government for imposing travel restrictions to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. But the situation made him think of staying in the United States.
“Every day my daughter asks me, ‘Dad, where are you?’ “- said Abhiram, who asked to be identified only by his second name. “Sometimes I want to go back to my homeland, not do it.”
But Raji Հ’s home to Hendersonville is his family.
“Our whole daily life was spent communicating with our neighbors, going out, visiting with friends, gathering in the yard for parties. It was wonderful, “he said. “I do not want to uproot our lives.”