New York: In early March, Poorva Dixit rushed to buy a ticket to India from in the United States. She learned her 72-year-old mother had fallen from her bed and was in critical condition. Poorva has been living in the United States for more than a decade now. She decided to leave her two young children and husband in California and visit her mom. She did not want them to travel due to risks of the coronavirus spreading around the world. Poorva and her husband are both Indian nationals while their children are US citizens.
Poorva is a software developer with a temporary permit to work in the United States. She knew that to return home in California she would have to go to the US consulate in Mumbai. There she will have to get a new visa stamped in her passport. It is a requirement for some visa holders when they travel abroad.
In precarious situation
A day before her visa appointment, the consulate shut down March 16 due to coronavirus restrictions. Eight days later her mother passed away.
Now a new immigration order issued Monday by President Donald Trump has barred her entry into the US. This can continue till the end of the year.
“I’ve already lost my mother and I am being kept away from my motherhood as well,” Poorva said. At the moment she is staying with relatives in the outskirts of Mumbai. “At this point my brain is just a fog,” Poorva added.
Many Indians in similar situation
Dixit is one of nearly 1,000 people in India trapped in similar situations. Many like her have lived and worked in the US legally for years but were in India when Trump made his announcement. They are confused and worried about their options for return.
Trump’s proclamation temporarily suspends the entry of people arriving on a range of work visas including the H-1B for skilled workers. These workers are often those in the tech industry, such as the visas Poorva and her husband have. The ban, which comes into force Wednesday, also applies to ‘L’ visas. These are used for international transfers of high-level employees. Others who fall in the ‘L’ visa category are seasonal workers and interns.
There are some exemptions to the ban. Those working in the food supply industry and some medical workers are free from the ban. But while the proclamation exempts spouses and children of US citizens, it is silent on parents of children who are US citizens.
Difficult for husband
Poorva’s husband, Kaustubh, has been trying to juggle his full-time job with child care for their six and three-year-old daughters. Poorva calls her children, sometimes for hours a day. She tries to keep them occupied by reading books and singing songs so her husband can work. However, she fears the separation will cause long-term psychological damage, especially for her younger daughter. The kid has grown frustrated with the phone calls. Her older daughter wrote above a family portrait on the fridge, ‘living sadly ever after’.
The White House said the visa measure is necessary. This is to make jobs available for Americans when millions are out of work due to the pandemic. But six Indians, including Poorva said they have held on to their US-based jobs during the pandemic.
Questioning the ban
Vinod Albuquerque is a 41-year-old business consultant. He has continued working remotely for his company in Atlanta since he had to make an emergency trip to Mangalore. H had to fly back when his father had a stroke in February.
Albuquerque left his pregnant wife, due in September, and six-year-old son in the US. He, too, was not able to get to a visa appointment before the consulate shuttered and is now stranded.
“It feels so unfair,” Albuquerque said. “We understand maybe something like this for new H-1Bs that have never been to the US. But people like us are collateral damage. I still contribute to the economy, I am still being taxed in the US,” he added.