indica News Bureau-
Thousands of Indians, including students, stranded in the US for weeks due to the COVID-19 related travel restrictions, are urging the government to operate additional flights to evacuate them and add more departure cities like Houston and Dallas with sizeable Indian population.
The worst affected people by this humanitarian crisis are the students, and emergency medical tourists, who need evacuation badly to avoid further financial strain. There are around 30,000 students alone in the Houston Consular region, comprising eight US states with top universities. Many students have left just before the lockdown and those who could not are ready to go after their semester exams last week.
There are an estimated 250,000 Indian students in the US, significantly large numbers of whom are stranded due to the sudden closure of the universities and asked to vacate their hostels and follow stay-at-home order issued by the authorities to contain the spread of the pandemic in the country, India Today reported.
Hundreds of Indian J1 visa holders are stuck in the United States with uncertain accommodation and limited food. The J-1 visa in the United States is for people who wish to take part in work-and-study-based exchange and visitor programs in the US. Many students have said that their visas are expired and don’t have a ticket to go back home.
“Hundreds of Indian J1 visa holders are stranded in the United States with uncertain accommodation and limited food. They don’t have the luxury of staying put. They need help,” said North American Association of Indian Students.
“We do strongly urge the government to: either increase the amount of flights going from the United States (seven flights are not enough) and ask that students get access to special pricing, or please help with more immediate relief for the students stranded in the States,” it added.
North American Association of Indian Students also shared visuals of a student staying in an open garage who has been kicked out of his accommodation. A student from India is living in an open garage in Palm Springs, California where the temperature gets to 40 Celsius/105 Fahrenheit.
The stories are almost similar for Aditya Dwivedi, Abhiraj, Jay Virsadi, and Yash Chavan who had gone to the US to work as a trainee in a hotel in Coralville but are now stuck there. “Our visas expired on 31st March and we had a flight ticket to fly back to India on 31st March and it was confirmed. Suddenly because of the entire situation, flights are going to be cancelled because India is on lockdown,” said Abhiraj. Jay Virsadi added that they don’t have accommodation and have lost their employment as well. The group had vacated their apartment after an eviction notice which was served to them on 30th March.
Apart from the four Ujwala who hails from Mumbai has been stuck in New York’s Lake Placid. It has been 14 months since she last went home. “I came here for an internship program which finished a month back. Right now, I can’t travel back or go back home to see my family because of coronavirus and quarantine. Flights and Airports are shut as completely the country is shut.”
However, The Indian Embassy and consulates claimed that they are working round the clock and facing challenges to cater to all emergencies. The employees are helping cancer patients, pregnant women, students, stranded tourists, laid-off workers and persons wanting to go home. Some of these people have lost close ones in the family or their visas have expired. Consulate helplines are receiving over 10,000 emails and calls daily.
Consulate officials said that they are not just helping with flights. They are also offering assistance by helping students with accommodation and essential services. This is because their university and college dormitories closed down in March.
Consul General of India in Houston, Aseem Mahajan said that they are trying their best to help those stranded. “We are facing a unique humanitarian crisis that has taken everyone unawares and impacted all. Every situation is critical and needs attention. We are making sure there is timely help available for all,” said Mahajan.
Students who have travelled from other countries to study in the USA are finding it difficult because universities have locked all the hostels and they are stranded. Hence, India’s Ambassador to the US Taranjit Singh Sandhu has released a piece of advise for Indian students, stranded in America due to the sudden closure of universities and the ongoing lockdown back home because of the coronavirus pandemic, to stay where they are and assured them help in this crisis situation. Meanwhile, the Centre last week told the Delhi High Court that they cannot evacuate the students stuck abroad due to the lockdown to contain the spread of coronavirus. The Centre said that the students stuck in various countries are being provided with necessary assistance