It's been over 18-months since the COVID-19 pandemic turned the world upside down, divided families, and stranded people in a foreign land. Even as new COVID-19 cases are declining, there's no respite for thousands of Indians living abroad, eagerly in anticipation of seeing their loved ones. For many, it's not going to be a happy reunion. Some are trying to visit ailing parents or at least be able to console their grieving families. Wrapped around bureaucratic red tape, thousands of families are kept apart.
Thousands of immigrants living in the United States on temporary visas are facing a difficult situation, either coming home and not being able to return to the US or staying away from their families. This is a serious issue that has burdened millions of Indians living in the US throughout the pandemic. It's shocking that even as the COVID cases subsided, and air travels resumed up until the Omicron concerns played foul, Indians with a work visa in the US haven't been able to come home without fearing that their visit would be a one-way trip.
What's with US Consulates in India?
An Indian living in the US on a work visa has expressed his frustration on being unable to come home without having to risk losing his re-entry into the United States. Reason: The US consulates in India have been functioning irregularly throughout the pandemic, due to which Rahul Fernandes, an India-born visa holder in the US, hasn't been able to get a consular appointment, which is mandatory to return to the US.
Fernandes also revealed that thousands of people are facing similar issues and are unable to get an appointment. What's worse, people are reportedly getting blocked from the website for three days when they try logging in more than four times a day.
"As an immigrant, the rights we have should include the freedom to go out of the country and the ability to come back smoothly. There should be processes to ensure such bottlenecks don't happen. Having the ability to get visa stamps in the US could smoothen this process," said one Twitter user Neel Rajeev Joshi.
"My 80-year-old father's health is a constant worry"
Fernandes is trying to come home so he can see his 80-year-old father. Since his concern towards his elderly father's health doesn't qualify for an emergency appointment, he has been faced with a dilemma - either come to India and not be able to return to the US or not come at all.
"I believe this issue has not received the attention it deserves. Those of us who work in Silicon Valley building products and services that have helped the world through this pandemic, deserve to see our families," Fernandes wrote on Twitter.
Frustration keeps growing
This being a holiday season, families in the US commonly get together - be it for Thanksgiving or Christmas in the coming days. There's a Telegram group with over 60,000 people stuck in a similar situation. In the coming days, their frustration is only going to grow, especially since there's no plan of action. Fernandes fears it could be many months or even years.
At a time when Indian talent is being praised for securing top positions in global conglomerates, it comes as a shock that governments of both countries are turning a deaf ear to all appeals.
Meanwhile, a shocking incident took place in the Indian embassy in New York, where an Indian woman was told to get out while she was seeking a visa to attend her father's last rites in India. The woman and her husband were allegedly threatened to be blacklisted from ever getting an Indian visa.
It is not much different for those seeking Indian T-visa
Just last month, the new Indian visa norms also triggered confusion and inconvenience for NRIs, who already had valid multi-year multiple entry visas.
The advisory had stated that all existing valid Indian e-Tourist Visa/regular paper Tourist Visa issued before Oct 6, 2021, will continue to remain suspended and travel on such visas will not be permitted. This meant, travelers would need to get a fresh tourist visa, which will be for single entry with 30-day validity.
In the US, this communique triggered chaos and disappointment. In one particular incident, a wheelchair-bound woman who was traveling to India was not allowed to board her flight. Reason: The senior citizen, did not have a fresh single-entry tourist visa.