The State Department unable to say when U.S. missions in India will reopen to stamp passports.
There is little hope for the early return of more than a thousand unstamped H-1B and other nonimmigrant visa holders stranded in India with no official word on the reopening of U.S. missions there.
“Our overseas missions will resume routine visa services as soon as possible but are unable to provide a specific date at this time,” U.S. State Department told the American Bazaar in response to a query on the plight of such visa holders stuck in India because of the Covid lockdown.
“Each consular section is continuously reviewing its capacity to adjudicate visa applications,” a spokesperson of the State Department responded via email.
As the American Bazaar reported on Wednesday, more than 1,000 Indian nationals are awaiting their visa renewals, most of them H-1B holders. They cannot come back to the United States until their renewed visas are stamped on their passports.
Many of these individuals stuck in visa limbo have family emergencies back in the United States, such as pregnant spouses, sick family members and young children needing medical care.
They have urged the U.S. government to allow them to come back to the country on humanitarian grounds.
“We encourage applicants to consult with the relevant U.S. embassy or consulate in order to confirm the level of services currently offered,” the State Department spokesperson wrote.
“Although Department employees have been working remotely all along, consular resources and local government restrictions vary widely, and each consular section is continuously reviewing its capacity to adjudicate visa applications during this worldwide pandemic.”
The United States Embassy in New Delhi and the country’s four missions in Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai and Hyderabad have been closed since March 16 because of covid-19.
Immigration experts and some of the stranded visa holders have pointed out that the United States government could potentially repatriate those stuck in India through one of the two provisions: “automatic visa revalidation” and a “humanitarian parole.”
The former is mostly used by nonimmigrants to re-enter the United States after their visa expires, if they visit Canada, Mexico or territories close to the U.S. for a period of less than 30 days. Humanitarian parole is granted to nonimmigrants who have “urgent humanitarian reason.”
Asked whether the Department would consider one of these two options, given the gravity of the situation for many of those stranded, the State Department spokesperson said it is the jurisdiction of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).
The DHS has not responded to a request for comment.
Two visa holders who are currently in India and desperately trying to come back to the United States said they reached out to U.S. missions in Delhi and Mumbai but were “unable to secure an emergency appointment for an interview as the guidelines for these appointments only cover death and life-threatening illness.”
Both Mili Khatter and Poorva Dixit went to see their ailing mothers, leaving behind their young children in the United States.
Khatter, a mother of two kids, has a seven-year-old daughter with Type 1 diabetes. Dixit, who works for a San Francisco technology company, has two girls, ages six and three, in the United States. Both women lost their mothers.
“We request the [Department of State], to please consider the ‘reunification with a minor child’ also as a basis for scheduling an emergency appointment,” they said in a joint statement.
Another person who is seeking a humanitarian intervention is Dallas Zaheer Iqbal (name changed at his request). His wife gave birth to their first child at a Dallas area hospital on May 14. An H4 visa holder and stay-at-home spouse, who does not drive, she is struggling to take care of her new born, without any assistance.
Iqbal is currently waiting for his renewed visa after being placed in a category called “administrative processing,” which requires additional background and security checks that takes anywhere from four weeks to several months.
However, these aren’t the only issues plaguing these individuals waiting for the U.S. missions to reopen. While several of those awaiting their visas have family emergencies, most of them are worried about their job security and financial well-being at a time of great uncertainty.
So far 26 people who are awaiting their visa renewals have lost their jobs. Only a fraction of the more than one thousand people currently in India are able to work remotely.
Some 85 percent of stranded visa holders are either homeowners, or have rental properties, meaning that despite job loss and the inability to work, most of them still have to make monthly payments without receiving a paycheck.
While the majority of them still have their jobs, the uncertainty of if or when that will change is always there for these H-1B visa holders.
“Although we anticipate every day for a speedy recovery from the pandemic, the rising case numbers depict a grim future,” said Rajiv Mehta, another H-1B visa holder who is currently stranded in India.
“We are okay to live with the SARS-CoV-2 but with our family, jobs, and education. We hope that the Department of State and the US missions also show empathy for cases beyond the ‘reunification’ classification. Such as work emergencies or completion of studies,” said Ajay Kumar, who works for a firm in Duluth, Georgia.
Of the more than 1,000 visa holders trying to get back to the U.S., 57 percent are working in the tech industry. A fifth of them are dependents on H4 visas.
The remaining H-1B visa holders include lawyers, healthcare workers, scientists, architects, students, and those employed in the financial sector.