Many people, including those of Indian origin, have been unable to fly to India from the United States even after buying tickets because they did not realize that their tourist visas had been suspended during the pandemic.
One such traveler from Seattle, who requested anonymity, told indica News that he lost $8,000 in flight tickets.
His father-in-law passed away early in February 2021 and the family rushed to the Seattle–Tacoma International Airport but they were not allowed to board the flight.
The man said his wife is pregnant and had a multiple entry visa valid until 2025, but was told she has to apply for an “entry visa”. So, he said, he called the emergency number of the Indian consulate in San Francisco several times at 10:48am.
“I got a text message in the afternoon, past 1:30pm that said: ‘If you have any emergency situation please text in brief, we will get back to you soon’,” the man told indica News.
“After that there was no response from the consulate. I called several times on the emergency number but no one picked up the phone. I even called the New York consulate and Washington, DC for help,” he claimed.
The next day, they reached out to a community leader with contacts who told them to visit the Indian consulate in San Francisco. So, the couple flew to San Francisco, got an emergency visa, and flew to India.
Prem Bhandari, chairman of Jaipur Foot USA, said he saw a woman “crying like hell” in New York. She had come with her two children from Atlanta, denied boarding, and had to return to Atlanta to get the emergency visa.
Another such traveller flew into Chicago from Minneapolis on February 14, and later that day had to board United Airline for New Delhi. As soon as he arrived in Chicago and went to the gate and the agent said his visa — T — is not valid and has been suspended temporarily because of Covid-19.
The man broke down at the counter, and the ticketing agents asked him to file for an emergency visa and send an email to Indian consulate in Chicago.
Bhandari said the man did send an email explaining his situation and also printed the documents and sent them by FedEx. A day later, Bhandari said, the man received an email notifying him that it will take three to four days to get the visa, and also asking him to prove that he is of Indian origin.
“Two and half days in Chicago by myself trying to reach out to anyone who can help me with this was very scary and stressful and I found myself so helpless,” the man from Minneapolis texted indica News.
“I just want to say that no one should go through this if mainly if you are Indian origin with 10 years of valid, multiple entry visa. People who had T visas should have been notified by the embassy in a proper way so that this doesn’t become a nightmare.”
Contacted for comment, Dr Nagendra Prasad, India’s consul general in San Francisco, told indica News that “T multiple e-visa have been under suspension”.
He said the consulate had been helping people with emergency situations, even issuing 200 visas in a day when needed.
“People are advised to visit the consulate website and even when they buy the tickets the information is there. People should see before boarding the flight,” Prasad said.
“We have widely publicized, please don’t go to the airport with a tourist visa which was issued earlier and don’t go with e-visa. In case of emergency, we are advising people to apply for an ‘entry visa’ and we are taking four to five days.
“In an emergency, we say, come to the consulate and keep the papers there as we are following Covid protocols,” Prasad said. “Even people who have their passport expired, we have tried to issue them passport on an emergency basis to travel back to India.”
There have also been reports of families being denied boarding on flights to India because infants did not have Covid-negative certificates.
Asked about it, Anju Sahni, manager with Air India in San Francisco, told indica News: “We comply with the regulations of Indian government, and that has to be enforced.”
The requirements related to Covid keep changing from time to time so passengers should check before they travel, Sahni said.
“We get the guidelines, everywhere it gets updated, the Indian government website, Indian consulate website and even Air India website,” she said.
“The latest guidelines is anyone traveling — whether an infant or a senior — needs to carry Covid-negative certificate. Again, we don’t make the guidelines; we just implement,” she added, requesting people to understand.