NRIs stranded in India urge Centre – “Don’t fly empty planes” | US and Gulf expats want to return back to their second home.
George Julius Williams | Consulting Editor
Stranded non-resident Indians (NRIs) in the country working/residing in US and Middle Eastern countries have urged the Centre to help them get back to countries of their residency, citing the threat of losing their jobs and livelihoods due to the delay among other reasons.
They say they could be put on empty Air India flights engaged in the world’s biggest evacuation named ‘Operation Vande Bharat’.
Some of them say they are separated from their minor children, who are now in dire straits as more than two months have passed. Some others stuck in India are facing innumerable problems and have no idea when they can join their ailing kin.
According to The Hindustan Times NRIs told them that they are more than 4,000 in numbers and have approached many without results. Around 2000 of these are from the Middle-Eastern countries, around 1000 from Europe and approximately 800 from the US. They have created WhatsApp and Telegram groups to stay in touch with each other and air their grievances.
“I came here for my mother’s cancer operation. I have a one- and- a-half-year breastfeeding child left with my husband in Qatar and I knocked on many doors to help me get back. My husband’s job is also in danger now,” said another woman from Kochi who did not wish to be named.
At least 50 per cent of the stranded NRIs had come to see their ailing relatives and they want the government to hear their woes before it’s too late.
Another woman came to Kolkotta to attend her father’s funeral service after leaving her two minor kids with her husband. “Initially I thought it will be there for a few weeks. But there is no sign of any resumption of flights. I am really worried,” she said.
Minister of state for external affairs V Muraleedharan said the government was aware of their plight. “Many such cases came to our attention. We don’t have any problem in sending them back but the host country will have to allow flight services. Most of these countries have suspended international flights and are allowing only special ones. Once they begin service, they can go on the first flight. If their visas expire, we will help them in getting extension,” he said adding they will have to wait for some more time.
The government specified rules allow Indian nationals with at least a one-year-long visa to book flights for foreign destinations being serviced by Operation Vande Bharat Mission. It also allows Green Card and OCI (Overseas Citizen of India) cardholders to travel. In case of deaths and medical emergencies, Indian nationals holding six months visa can also be allowed to travel provided the conditions imposed for entry of people by the destination countries are met.
On the other hand, NRIs residing/working in the US but stranded in India are stressed about President Donald Trump’s uncertainty surrounding the revised rules for H1-B visas. “Lots of NRIs are stuck in India away from families, on the verge of losing jobs, visa expirations, with a financial crisis about to take over us. If we can’t go back to the US our life will be mere chaos. Please help us,” Aravind Bijjala told Republic World.com
In a petition on Change.org, called ‘Start International Flights in India’, the NRIs have expressed their distress asking the government to resume outbound flights, so that they can fly out of India to their respective destinations. Most of them argue that outbound flights do not pose a health concern. The petition has received over 8000 signatures to date.
The current H-1B visa rules require certain professionals, along with their family members, to leave the United States within 60 days of job loss. Since the NRIs stranded here cannot report to work, many have been threatened to be laid-off, something that could result in them losing everything that they have worked for over decades.
“Most of us are on work visas. Our stay in the US is directly tied to our employment. If say someone gets laid off or terminated while they are in India, they won’t be able to return. Which means they can’t go back to their families, their homes…Nothing at all,” said Shashank Ashtikar, a Silicon Valley techie who is stranded in India.
Being the worst-hit country during the pandemic the US faces a major recession and life does not seem brighter for the NRIs even in a post-pandemic world. In this situation, it is extremely imperative for them to make it back on time and hold on to whatever is left for them back in the states, to safeguard themselves from being laid off.
Along with repeated attempts of reaching out to the Centre and the MEA, the NRIs have also started an online petition to try and gain more attention to their problem. “I am a daughter who has lost her mother and a mother who can’t be with her minor kids.” This was the first thing that Poorva Dixit Talathi said while describing what she was going through. During the days India has been under lockdown, Poorva has not only lost her mother but has also had no time to grieve.
“I travelled to Mumbai on an emergency to take care of my ailing Mother. My kids aged 5yrs and 3 yrs stayed back with my husband in California. Unfortunately, my mom lost her battle to life on March 24. By then everything was under lockdown in India. Performing her rituals was a huge battle in itself. Younger one barely understands why mom is not coming back,” said Poorva. “I have already lost my mom and being away from my kids is killing me daily. Haven’t been able to grieve for my mother’s demise as I am busy finding ways to go back to the US,” she added.
Rashmi, another NRI stranded in India revealed that she flew in to the country to perform her mother’s last rites, leaving back home her 8-year-old son who is autistic. “I came to India because my mom passed away suddenly. I am stuck here now and I need to go back home to my family and especially my 8-year-old autistic son who really needs me.”
The NRIs have only one request from the Government– to start outbound flights. If not, send them back on the empty flights being sent to evacuate Indian citizens from the US.
While the US and the Middle Eastern countries are interested in allowing expats leave their country, NRIs who are stranded in India, continue to reach out for help urging the Center to let them go back to their second home in the planes that are flying out empty from Indian soil.
Source: The Hindustan Times | Republic World.com | Picture courtesy: Republic World.com
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