Editor’s note: Payal Raj is one of the thousands of Indian nationals on H-1B, L-1, H-4 and L-2 visas who are unable to return to the United States because of travel restrictions imposed on May 4 and also due to the closure of US Embassy and consulates in India. The Nashville, TN, resident describes her plight in an exclusive piece for the American Bazaar.
By Payal Raj
My husband and I came to India with our daughter on April 6, after the US consulates in the country opened following a prolonged closure in due to the Covid-19 pandemic. We needed to stamp US visas on our passports. We also wanted to spend time with our parents because it had been three years since we last saw them. Our plan was to return to Nashville, Tennessee, where we have been living for the past five years, on May 1.
Our immigration attorney advised that since it was my husband’s second H-1B visa stamping, he didn’t need to get an interview and biometrics. Instead he, as well as my daughter and I, as dependents, could make use of Dropbox visa stamping.
Dropbox application is when you submit your passports at a collection office with all supporting documents.
When we went to the visa office to submit our passports, the visa office rejected mine saying that, since I was stamping my H-4 visa for the first time, I would need another appointment, separate from my husband. (I was on L-2 visa previously.) My husband pleaded with him to accept my passport, but he did not. So we ended up submitting only his and my daughter’s passports. As soon as he came out of the visa office after submission, he broke down before me as he knew my visa stamping process would be a big hassle. By then the consulates had started shutting down and canceling all appointments.
We took heart in the fact that at least they could go and that I could apply for an appointment at a future date and then expedite it. In a week’s time, their visas were processed. Till that week, the consulate portal did not allow me to separate my visa appointment from the group application. So I sat for a week not being able to do anything toward my stamping process.
Just when they got their stamped visa, the travel ban was announced and the US embassy and the consulates completely shut down, with no notice and no communication on what will happen to those who are waiting to get an appointment and stamping.
My husband and daughter had to go back. We own a house in the United States; we have a pet there; my husband had to report back to his job; daughter had to be enrolled in a new school; and above all, we had built a life there for so many years. We had to at least get my daughter back to some normalcy.
As it stands now, I have no idea when and how I will get back to my 9-year-old, who completely depends on me for all her needs. The bans are specifically targeted toward non-immigrants and their families, and, looking at the history of other country bans, this could go on for months, or even a year.
So my family just has to endure this separation and live our lives in anxiety, mental stress and agony? My daughter has sensed all the tension and has gone quiet, my husband tells me. How did the Biden administration decide which families should be together and which not? Did they even know that thousands of us were here to follow the rule on stamping and that they literally stranded us with their ill-thought policy.
India is different from other countries, so the same proclamation doesn’t really work. Here there are thousands of skilled workers who have a home and life in the US and parents and extended families here. The Biden administration obviously doesn’t care about it.
Everyone has the human right to be with their family, with their kids, regardless of their citizenship and immigration status. How can the administration blatantly deny that and that too indefinitely!
That is the visa situation. The Covid situation I am in is another story. My side of the family has Covid so I cannot go live with them. My in laws are old and live by themselves in Bangalore which is a hot spot for Covid. I am living with them but if I or they needed any help with any medical emergency I don’t know what we would do. I don’t know anyone here and have no community support as I would have had in the US because that’s where my HOME is, not here.
Non-immigrants have been living in the US for years together. Our belongings, homes, cars, mortgages, school, work, friends, community,H-1 everything is there. How is it fair that on a technicality of citizenship, the Biden administration has pushed us into a corner to endure months of separation and agony and fear of losing everything we have worked so hard to build there?
I am amazed that this administration boasts of being humane and reuniting families at the border but is treating us with such apathy!
US restricts travel from India; H-1B, L1 holders most affected (April 30, 2021)
US asks Americans to leave India amid Covid surge (April 29, 2021)
Indian Americans concerned about travel to Covid hit India (April 26, 2021)