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US to restrict travel from India starting May 4

WASHINGTON, May 1: The United States will restrict travel from India starting May 4, the White House said on April 30, citing a devastating rise in COVID-19 cases in the country and the emergence of potentially dangerous variants of the coronavirus.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said President Joe Biden's administration made the determination on the advice of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Biden signed a proclamation barring entry to most foreigners who have been in India in the past 14 days, with exceptions for legal permanent residents, spouses and close family members of U.S. citizens, and some others. He cited the spread of the virus and its variants.

“The CDC advises, based on work by public health and scientific experts, that these variants have characteristics of concern, which may make them more easily transmitted and have the potential for reduced protection afforded by some vaccines,” Biden said in the proclamation.

He said the CDC has concluded that “proactive measures” are needed to protect public health from travelers from India.

Biden spoke Monday with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi about the growing health crisis and pledged to immediately send assistance. This week, the U.S. began delivering therapeutics, rapid virus tests and oxygen to India, along with some materials needed for India to boost its domestic production of COVID-19 vaccines. Additionally, a CDC team of public health experts was expected to be on the ground soon to help Indian health officials move to slow the spread of the virus.

Vice President Kamila Harris, who is of Indian descent, called the situation in India a “great tragedy” and said she hadn’t spoken to any of her relatives still living there since the news of the travel ban was made public. She emphasized America’s “longstanding, decades-long relationship” with the country in speaking about the U.S. aid to help alleviate some of the crisis there.

“We have a responsibility as the United States, and particularly with people we have partnered with over the years, to step up when people are in a time of need,” she said.

The White House waited on the CDC recommendation before moving to restrict travel, noting that the U.S. already requires negative tests and quarantines for all international travelers. Other restrictions are in place on travel from China, Iran, the European Union, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Brazil and South Africa, which are or have been hotspots for the coronavirus.

There was no immediate comment on the new limits from the State Department, which on Thursday reissued a warning to Americans against traveling to India and said those already in the country should consider leaving by commercial means. That warning was accompanied by a notice that the department was telling the families of all U.S. government employees at its embassy in New Delhi and four consulates in India that they could leave the country at government expense.

U.S. diplomatic facilities in India have not been immune from the pandemic and a handful of local staff have perished from the virus. Several dozen other local and U.S. staffers have been sickened by COVID-19, according to officials who were not authorized to discuss personal matters publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity. The State Department has declined to comment on the number of staff affected, citing security and privacy concerns.

But even as the U.S. boosts pandemic assistance to India and allows some of its diplomatic families to come home, other aspects of the relationship continue unhampered.

Just minutes after the White House released the new travel restrictions, the State Department said it had approved more than $2.4 billion in arms sales to India, which the U.S. believes will be a critical counterbalance to China in the Indo-Pacific region.

The sale includes six Boeing P-8I patrol aircraft and related technology to be used for surveillance. The department said the deal “will support the foreign policy and national security of the United States by helping to strengthen the U.S.-Indian strategic relationship and to improve the security of a major defensive partner, which continues to be an important force for political stability, peace, and economic progress in the Indo-Pacific and South Asia region.”

US exempts categories of students, academics, journalists from India travel ban

WASHINGTON, May 1: Certain categories of students, academics, journalists and individuals have been exempted from the India travel ban announced by President Joe Biden, the US State Department said.

The exemptions were issued by Secretary of State Tony Blinken, hours after Biden issued a proclamation restricting travel from India beginning May 4 because of the 'extraordinarily high COVID-19 caseloads and multiple variants circulating in the country'.

According to the State Department, the travel ban exemption is in line with a similar exemption that the US has granted to some categories of travellers from Brazil, China, Iran and or South Africa.

“In keeping with the Department of State’s commitment to facilitate legitimate travel to the United States, Secretary Blinken decided today to apply the same set of National Interest Exceptions to India that he had previously applied to all other regional travel restrictions currently in effect as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic,” the State Department said.

Students seeking to commence studies in the fall, academics, journalists and individuals who provide critical infrastructure support in countries affected by a geographic COVID-19 restriction may qualify for the exception, it said.

This includes qualified applicants who have been present in India, Brazil, China, Iran, or South Africa, it added.

The pandemic continues to limit the number of visas our embassies and consulates abroad are able to process, it said. As always, visa applicants should check the website of the nearest embassy or consulate for the most up-to-date information about visa appointment availability, the State Department said.

“As the global situation evolves, the Department continues to seek ways to process more visa applications, in line with science-based guidance from health authorities and with the health and safety of staff and applicants as our priority,” it said.

In a national interest exemption issued by the State Department on April 26, which it said is good for India too, students with valid F-1 and M-1 visas intending to begin or continue an academic programme commencing August 1 or later do not need to contact an embassy or consulate to seek an individual exemption to travel. They may enter the United States no earlier than 30 days before the start of their academic studies.

Students seeking to apply for new F-1 or M-1 visas should check the status of visa services at the nearest embassy or consulate.

Those applicants who are found to be otherwise qualified for an F-1 or M-1 visa will automatically be considered for an NIE to travel, it said.

The Department of State also continues to grant NIEs for qualified travellers seeking to enter the US for purposes related to humanitarian travel, public health response and national security.

These travellers and any others who believe their travel to be in the United States’ national interest should also review the website of the nearest US embassy or consulate for instruction on how to contact them, it said.

In another memorandum on April 8, the Secretary of State had determined that the travel of immigrants, fiancé(e) visa holders, certain exchange visitors, and pilots and air crew travelling to the United States for training or aircraft pickup, delivery or maintenance is in the national interest for purposes of approving exceptions under the geographic COVID presidential proclamations.

These proclamations restrict the entry of individuals physically present, within the 14-day period prior to their attempted entry into the United States, in the People’s Republic of China, Islamic Republic of Iran, Schengen Area, United Kingdom, Republic of Ireland, Federative Republic of Brazil, or Republic of South Africa.

 

 

 

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