By Mica Rosenberg
(Reuters) – In early March, Poorva Dixit rushed to buy a ticket to India from the United States, her home for more than a decade, after she learned her 72-year-old mother had fallen from her bed and was in critical condition.
She decided to leave her two young children and husband in California because of the risks of the novel coronavirus spreading around the world. Dixit and her husband are both Indian nationals while their children are U.S. citizens.
A software developer with a temporary permit to work in the United States, Dixit knew that to return home she would have to go to the U.S. consulate in Mumbai to get a new visa stamped in her passport, a requirement for some visa holders when they travel abroad.
On March 16, a day before her visa appointment, the consulate shut down due to coronavirus restrictions. Eight days later her mother passed away.
Now a new immigration order issued by President Donald Trump on Monday that bars the entry of holders of certain temporary work visas, could leave Dixit trapped in India, far from her children, until at least the end of the year.
“I’ve already lost my mother and I am being kept away from my motherhood as well,” Dixit, who is staying with relatives in the outskirts of Mumbai, told Reuters. “At this point my brain is just a fog.”
Dixit is one of nearly 1,000 people in India trapped in similar situations who joined a private group on the messaging app Telegram.
Many like her have lived and worked in the United States legally for years but were in India when Trump made his announcement on Monday. They are confused and worried about their options for return, the administrators of the group told Reuters.
Trump’s proclamation temporarily suspends the entry of people arriving on a range of work visas including the H-1B for skilled workers, often those in the tech industry, such as the visas Dixit and her husband have. The ban, which comes into force on Wednesday, also applies to L visas used for international transfers of high-level employees, as well as different categories for seasonal workers and intern and trainee programs, in addition to accompanying family members.
There are some exemptions to the ban, including those working in the food supply industry and some medical workers involved in combating the coronavirus. But while the proclamation exempts spouses and children of U.S. citizens, it is silent on parents of children who are U.S. citizens.
Dixit’s husband, Kaustubh, has been trying to juggle his full-time job with child care for their 6- and 3-year-old daughters.
Dixit calls her children, sometimes for hours a day, trying to keep them occupied by reading books and singing songs so her husband can work. But she fears the separation will cause long-term psychological damage, especially for her younger daughter, who has grown frustrated with the phone calls. Her older daughter wrote above a family portrait on the fridge, “living sadly ever after.”
The White House said the visa measure is necessary to make jobs available for Americans when millions are out of work due to the pandemic. But six Indians, including Dixit, in the Telegram group told Reuters they have held on to their U.S.-based jobs during the pandemic.
Vinod Albuquerque, a 41-year-old business consultant has continued working remotely for his company in Atlanta since he had to make an emergency trip to Mangalore, on south India’s west coast, when his father had a stroke in February.
He left his pregnant wife, due in September, and 6-year-old son in the United States. He, too, was not able to get to a visa appointment before the consulate shuttered and is now stranded.
“It feels so unfair,” Albuquerque told Reuters. “We understand maybe something like this for new H-1Bs that have never been to the U.S., but people like us are collateral damage.”
“I still contribute to the economy, I am still being taxed in the U.S.,” he said.
(Reporting by Mica Rosenberg in New York; Additional reporting by Kristina Cooke in Los Angeles; Editing by Ross Colvin and Leslie Adler)