University students, some academics and journalists will be exempted from US restrictions on travel from India that go into effect from May 4 because of the surge in Covid-19 cases.
Antony Blinken, secretary of state, made these exemptions by extending National Interest Exceptions already in place for travel from Brazil, China, Iran and South Africa, the state department said.
“In keeping with the department of state’s commitment to facilitate legitimate travel to the United States, secretary Blinken decided today to apply the same set of National Interest Exceptions to India that he had previously applied to all other regional travel restrictions currently in effect as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic,” said the state department.
The Biden administration announced restrictions on travel from India earlier on Friday attributing it to “extraordinarily high Covid-19 caseloads and multiple variants circulating in India”.
American citizens and permanent legal residents (Green Card holders) are exempted from the ban.
The exception announced by the state department to the restriction will apply to students planning to start their college courses in fall, certain academics, journalists, and individuals who provide critical infrastructure support in countries affected by the Covid-19 related restrictions.
The number of new Indian students headed for US schools this fall could not be ascertained immediately. But, they are likely to be fewer than in previous years as enrollment of international students decreased by 43% in fall 2020 , according to the International Institute of Education, which has focused on international students since 1919 and partners the US government. The drop was attributed to Covid-19 restrictions and then president Donald Trump’s xenophobic immigration policies.
The number of Indian students in the US dropped 4.4% in 2020 to 193,124, according to Open Door, a comprehensive information resource partly funded by the state department.
The situation is “very, very serious”, Gayle Smith, state department coordinator of US global effort on Covid-19, said about the situation in India, adding, “India is reporting an increasing number of cases almost every day. And the crisis has not peaked yet. The way this happens in a surge is there’s a lag time between when people are infected, when they become sick, and when they may need care.”
New charge de affairs at US Embassy
The United States on Friday named Daniel Smith as charge de affairs at its embassy in New Delhi, as the top diplomat.
Smith is currently serving as director of the Foreign Service Institute and recently served as acting secretary of state and acting deputy secretary of State. He carries the highest Foreign Service rank of career ambassador.
“Ambassador Smith’s appointment underscores the United States’ strong commitment to our partnership with the Government of India and the Indian people., the state department said in an announcement, adding, “He will spearhead close cooperation with India to ensure that our countries continue to advance our shared priorities, including overcoming the global pandemic.”