travel ban

Indian citizens wait at San Francisco International Airport to board a special flight returning them to Mumbai. Several thousand Indian nationals, stranded in the U.S. amid the COVID-19 pandemic, are being evacuated by the Indian government. (photo courtesy of the San Francisco Indian Consulate)

The Indian government began to evacuate some Indian nationals from the U.S., but OCI card holders and Indian Americans continue to be barred from traveling to India.

Mindful of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has claimed 296,000 lives worldwide, including 2,415 in India, the Government of India first issued a travel ban March 22, stating that no international commercial passenger flight could leave or enter India.

Then on April 22, the Indian government announced that all visas issued to nationals of any country would be suspended until May 3. The government included OCI card holders in that directive.

On May 5, the government issued a new directive, extending the travel ban for residents of any country and OCI holders for an indefinite period of time.

Sumati Rao, a spokeswoman for the Consulate of India in San Francisco, clarified the directive May 13. “As long as the travel restrictions are in place, OCI card holders cannot travel to India,” she told India-West. Indian Americans who do not have OCI cards are also barred from traveling to India.

The San Francisco Indian Consulate evacuated 225 Indian nationals on a special Air India flight May 9 to Mumbai, and continued with the endeavor known as ‘Vande Bharat’ on May 13. Two more flights are scheduled for May 19 and May 23.

Similar evacuations of Indian nationals are scheduled this week from Chicago, Illinois; Newark, New Jersey, and Washington, DC.

On the flights were Indian students, H-1B visa holders, tourists whose visas had expired or were close to expiring, and others.

Rao said that the flights were limited to Indian nationals only, who would have to reimburse the Indian government for the one-way ticket. She also noted that the consulate has no discretion to make exceptions for OCI card holders or Indian Americans needing to fly back to India.

Social distancing practices are being followed to ensure the safety of staff and crew, according to a bulletin released by the Indian Embassy.

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