The United States has become one of the largest hotspots of a novel coronavirus in the world with over 450,000 confirmed cases and more than 16,000 deaths.
With flights suspended, thousands of immigrants are stranded across the United States including over 250,000 Indian students. Most of the universities have shut down and classes are being held online. Parents of some students from affluent backgrounds flew their children by the earliest possible flight. But some others who have limited resources have been left in a predicament.
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.
Four youths from Maharashtra and Gujarat are stranded in Coralville, Iowa. They have urged the Indian government to rescue them.
Aditya Dwivedi, Abhiraj, Jay Virsadi, and Yash Chavan 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 all the 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.
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.— North American Association of Indian Students (@NAAIndian) March 30, 2020
Help them get their voice heard. https://t.co/DbgqEqcV5y pic.twitter.com/QxJcrsJyGy
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."
Indian students from India are stuck. We want to bring you their stories. — North American Association of Indian Students (@NAAIndian) March 27, 2020
Ujwala, from Mumbai, is a student on a J1 Visa which expired, and she's been stuck in Lake Placid, New York. It's now been 14 months since she's gone home. pic.twitter.com/C1iUNNKg7a
North American Association Of Indian Students (NAAIS), which represents Indian-origin student community, has been assisting the Indian students who are currently stuck in the US.
Headed of NAAIS Sudhanshu Kaushik said that the students are confused about the situation as they don't have access to the information. "With the universities shutting down, the students don't have a place to stay, they don't have food to get, and might not have health insurance," Sudhanshu said.
The Indian Embassy has been running round the clock helpline for Indian students since mid-March. Some of the local Indian hoteliers are also helping Indian students with accommodation and food. The Consulate General of India has partnered with the NAAIS to find the students. The NAAIS built a specific hotline for students who couldn't specifically reach out to the CGI.
"In the first three days of our hotline (1-877-NAAIS-77) over 125 calls were received. With the limited resources we had, we tried to help as much as we could, and the media noticed," Sudhanshu added. The association has been in contact with the students to answer basic queries which haven't been answered by the authorities.
"The CGI-New York donated money, so we could try to help reach out and assist those students that are stranded. There is an effort from the diplomatic missions to reach out to students, but there are so many Indian students who are affected by this crisis," Sudhanshu added.
There are also reports of students from Indiana requesting the Indian government to rescue them. With no access to essential provisions, their expired visas and virtually no assistance from the consulate or embassy, it's only a matter of time before the students run out of resources.
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