With uncertainties surrounding Covid-19 travel restrictions, Indian work visa holders are finding alternate routes.
It took Sreesanth Pillai, an Indian professional working in Detroit, Michigan on an H-1B visa, a total of 36 hours and 15 days to return home — a journey which normally takes just 14 hours!
It was a journey he would likely remember all his life. For Pillai, managed to fly back from Mumbai, India, to his home in Michigan last week despite the US ban on travelers from India, battling a deadly second coronavirus wave.
Pillai flew from Mumbai to Istanbul, Turkey, where he quarantined himself for 15 days as per travel protocols and then flew back to the US. His route perhaps has been one of the most unusual and interesting.
Talking to the American Bazaar from his Detroit home where he is currently quarantining, Pillai tells us about his long journey.
“I was in India visiting my ageing parents, when the Covid situation in India worsened and travel restrictions came about,” he says. “Immediately I got in touch with my employer who advised me to return before the ban.”
“However, I could find no tickets. This left me worried and I began looking for ways to be back in the US as it was important for my job.”
Pillai, who has been living in the US for more than eight years now, began looking for alternate ways to ensure he could return to the US in time and resume his work.
He says, “When I began reading about Covid travel protocols and the US visa restrictions, I realized that the ban is for people who may have spent the past 14 days in India.
“I also found out that Turkey was open to Indian travelers as long as they quarantine in a facility advised by the Turkish authorities. Even though there were some other route suggestions such as via Russia that were floating in the immigration groups, I did not feel confident.”
About his travel, Pillai says, “I got my RT-PCR test done and flew from Mumbai to Istanbul via Doha, Qatar. When I finally reached the USA on the evening of May 24, I was the only Indian in that entire immigration line.”
“When the officer saw my Indian passport, he was perplexed and asked me where I was before Turkey. He wasn’t sure about the next steps and had to clarify with his seniors,” he says. “Once they understood that I had spent 15 days outside of India, there were no other questions asked.”
While he finally managed to do what so many others haven’t been able to, Pillai’s journey was surely long and tiring.
He says, “I flew from Mumbai to Doha which took me three and a half hours. After a 2-hour 15-minute layover I reached Istanbul from Doha in four and a half hours.”
“After spending 15 days in a hotel quarantining in Istanbul I flew to New York which was an 11-hour journey. Then there was a stay of 12 hours in the New York airport hotel and finally I flew the final leg of two hours 10 minutes from New York to Detroit.”
“So, I spent 21 hours in air and about 15 hours on layover. Not to forget a 15-day quarantine in Istanbul. It sounds crazy now but it was important for my job that I get back.”
About his time in Istanbul and if the immigration had any issues, he says, “At Istanbul they were surprised to have a visitor from India. They weren’t sure of the protocols and I ended up showing them the travel protocols on their website.
“After which, they allowed me to rent a hotel room in Istanbul and quarantine myself for 14 days. At the end of that period the hotel arranged for my RT-PCR test and I was ready to fly back to the US.”
He adds, “Ever since I came back I shared my experience with a few friends and now some people are looking at this way to possibly return back to the US.”
Many Indians on work visas currently stuck in India are worried about their jobs or are facing family separation because of the restrictions. With uncertainties surrounding when the ban will be lifted, some are relying on alternate routes.
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)