On April 30, US President Joe Biden imposed a travel ban on Indian non-immigrant visa-holders, including the H1-B, L-1, their dependants, business travellers, and visitors. Students on the F-1/M-1 visas earned an automatic exemption if their program starts August 1 or later.
The blanket rule affects a vast swath of Indians simply because they happen to be in a country fighting a grave health crisis. The ban exempts US citizens and permanent residents as though the virus can tell the difference.
The ban seriously impacts the lives of ordinary Indians. There are H1-B families where the husband has travelled to India to handle an emergency. The wife and children are in America. The husband is now subject to the ban and stranded away from his family and work.
Although the initial order is only for 30 days, the ban is likely to be renewed in 30-day increments until the overall situation in India improves. With scientists expecting a third wave, the husband could be locked down in India for many months. Worse, he could lose his job and home in America while waiting for the ban to be lifted, forcing his family to return to India at the very time when the CDC says that travel to India is ill-advised.
The order makes no exceptions for Indians who may have recovered from Covid and are immune to it, have been fully vaccinated, or come from regions that have historically been Covid-free.
Biden’s proclamation is eerily similar to former President Trump’s announcement in January 2017, banning travel predominately from Muslim countries. Trump’s reasoning at the time was that some countries practised lax security procedures that could potentially help terrorists infiltrate America.
Many media, political, and tech elites fought tooth and nail in federal courthouses and appeals courts to help overturn the restrictions. The United States Supreme Court sided with Trump during each appeal.
The elites’ reaction to Biden’s India travel ban has been astoundingly silent, and thus, hypocritical. Arguing that America’s health is at risk by allowing Indian travellers is disingenuous. More than 42 per cent of Americans, about 135 million people, are already fully vaccinated or have achieved immunity through natural infection. During the first wave last year, Australia and New Zealand imposed mandatory 14-day institutional quarantines on all arrivals and were remarkably successful in containing Covid spread. A far healthier America could have done the same now.
Besides, unlike last year, Indians over the age of 18 are eligible to be vaccinated. No traveller can even board a flight without proof of a negative RT-PCR test. Biden could have further limited entry only to fully vaccinated travellers, in addition to imposing mandatory 14-day institutional quarantines on arrival. That is, the administration could easily have managed the risk.
Meanwhile, Biden continues to welcome the flood of illegal immigrants bombarding America's southern border, placing America at a far higher risk of Covid spread than Indian travellers. Many migrants have tested positive and do not follow Covid protocols. They are being released into the vast American hinterland before their asylum hearing, which could take years. To Biden, the dreams of Central American migrants seem to be superior and deserving of special treatment. Dreams nursed by Indians wanting to work in America and reunite with family legally are somehow unworthy, even to Kamala Harris, who conveniently identifies as Indian when it suits her.
The media should have revolted against Biden's India travel ban. Elites should have been filing lawsuits, bringing pressure on the administration to reverse rules indiscriminately applied to an entire nation. They would have gladly done so if this were Trump’s executive order.
The writer is Managing Director, Rao Advisors LLC, US
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