File photo of Air India plane (Picture courtesy Air India) Photograph:( Others )
In April, when the Union Government suspended all visas, it also barred entry of OCI card holders into the country
Chetan Kumar(name changed) is a software engineer from Ahmedabad who has been working in the United States for seven years now. But now he is stranded in the States, without a job or a way back to India. Chetan’s children - aged seven & five - are US born Indians who are OCI card holders. They are not eligible for the world’s largest evacuation drive being carried out by the Indian government. Chetan is one among thousands of Indians who have lost their jobs in the US and are stranded without income, an expiring visa and no way back home.
In April, when the Union Government suspended all visas, it also barred entry of OCI card holders into the country. Millions of Indians living abroad are OCI card holders, who enjoy the privileges of being Indian citizens except for voting rights, holding political office and owning certain categories of land.
Like Chetan, thousands of Indians working in the US have lost their jobs as contracts are not being renewed in the current situation. “We were shocked when we heard the announcement. How can we leave our children in the US? They need someone to take care of them. They cannot stay alone. Many others I know have infants who don’t have OCI cards or passports and they don’t know how they will travel.” says Chetan.
Another OCI card holder who is stranded is Srishti(name changed), a media student from Pune pursuing her masters programme in the United States. Srishti was born in the States when her parents were living there, but she moved to India when she was just three years old. She returned to America in 2019 to pursue her masters programme and finds herself stranded in the middle of the pandemic hotspot of the world.
“People like me are students who have parents who are Indian passport holders. They came to America on H1B visas and we were born here. We have lived here for a few years and have moved to India when we were children. We have come here for our higher education. Right now we are in a difficult situation because we have no one here, no financial support. Our dorms are closed and our institutions are closed - for how long no one knows. This is such an unprecedented situation that even the universities don’t have any answers.” says Srishti.
Srishti is part of a group of 357 OCI card holders in the US who are trying to draw attention to their plight on social media. While officials have their hands tied due to the Union Government order, many of the OCI card holders are receiving hate on social media. “We are just requesting the government to help us on humanitarian grounds. Looking at the hate it seems like people don’t know much about OCI. There is this notion that if someone is an OCI card holder, he/she has given up his/her Indian citizenship and chosen something else. But that is not the case always. If someone has done that, they have left India and have settled elsewhere. They wouldn’t want to return to India now, it's common sense.” says Srishti.
Another challenge being faced by the stranded Indians is that of accomodation. With no job or income and universities shutting down they are running out of accomodation options. 39-yr-old Pooran Singh is a travelling nurse who had worked in the United States for ten years. He moved back to India in 2017 and only goes to the states for a few months on a contract basis. His contract has ended this time and with no way back home he has rented out a temporary AirBnB accommodation.
“I am renting a place temporarily through AirBnB. There is uncertainty on how long I should rent it out for, as we haven’t received any specific guidelines from the Indian government on when the restrictions will be lifted. So we don’t know if we should opt for long-term accommodation or short-term. Out of jobs now, we will soon run out of money. At the same time our families back in India are panicking as they don’t know what the situation is.” says Pooran.
H1B Visa holders have also petitioned the US Government to extend the permissible period of stay after job loss from 60 days to 180 days. But the US Government has not given a favourable response so far. With options running out, several such OCI card holders are desperate for a relaxation from the Union Government which will allow them to be part of the evacuation drive.
“We understand that the government is doing its best to be there for everyone in a situation like this. We also understand that we might not be the priority and we understand that the government should prioritise the Indian nationals. But they haven’t even mentioned us anywhere in the evacuation process. That is very disappointing as we are equally in distress and we were looking up to the government to help us.” says Srishti.