New York: A prominent social activist here has requested Indian authorities to initiate a faster process to allow Indian-origin people with US passports and no OCI card to visit India for medical emergencies faced by their families back home. Jaipur Foot USA Chairman Prem Bhandari, who has helped several Indians stranded in the US to return to their homeland amid the COVID-19 pandemic, has written a letter to Home Secretary Ajay Bhalla. He requested Bhalla that rapid travel be facilitated for Indian-origin passengers who have foreign passports but may not have visa or Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) cards to travel to India during the pandemic. In May, the Indian government suspended all existing visas granted to foreign nationals, barring a few categories, till international air travel to and from India remains shut due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The government has, however, allowed certain categories of OCI card holders, who are stranded abroad, to travel to the country. Bhandari said that he is aware of several instances where Indian-origin persons, having a foreign passport with visa but no OCI card, are unable to travel to India in emergency cases such as death of a parent or immediate family member, or other medical emergencies such as hospitalisation faced by family members back in India. “As you are aware, there are scores of such Indian origin persons who may have a foreign passport with no visa or OCI. Though they must travel almost immediately, they are unable to do so given the requirements of visa/OCI which is a significantly long process,” Bhandari said in the letter. He requested that a faster process be facilitated such that cases of bereavement of immediate family members of Indian-origin persons are prioritised in visa process and airlines’ seat allocation as well as faster verification of appropriate documentations. Bhandari suggested that ways to achieve this expediently could be through an online portal that issues requisite visas and necessary travel documentation in the shortest possible time; visa/travel permission is issued on arrival at port of entry in India; authorisation is delegated to local consulates to ensure each case is not adjudicated at higher levels and enabling concerned Indian ministries and departments to support and execute this process. “In the interest of serving the multitude of stranded needy Indian-origin diaspora, I look forward to a quick and favourable disposition of this request,” Bhandari said in the letter, a copy of which will also be sent to Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla. Bhandari cited an emergency case in which an Indian-origin person Rajiv Sinha, who had a US passport, had to travel to Jamshedpur, India on June 26 for the funeral of his father but faced difficulty at New York airport since he had a visa but no OCI card. Bhandari said in order to help Sinha, he spoke with Bhalla and was able to get verbal approval for him to travel to India. He however noted that the person’s sister is still stuck in the US and unable to travel for her father’s funeral. He said there are several other people in similar situations who are unable to travel to India in cases of emergencies due to the restrictions in place and it may not be possible to individually provide help to each person every time. To ensure a solution to this problem, Bhandari said there should be change in rules to “ensure that US citizens can reach their parents in an emergency during the pandemic.” In the letter, Bhandari expressed his gratitude to Shringla, Bhalla and other officials for their prompt action that helped people travel to India in instances of medical emergency. Bhandari had taken up the cause of the OCI card holders and had welcomed the decision of the Indian government to ease the coronavirus-linked travel restrictions imposed on those having OCI cards. He had said the decision is a “big relief” for the OCI card holders. OCI cards are issued to people of Indian-origin globally which give them almost all the privileges of an Indian national except for the right to vote, government service and buying agricultural land. The OCI card gives them visa-free travel to India.
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