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 (June 22) 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.
“Since the EO (Executive Order) is out, I’ve been brain fog. I have no idea what my next steps would be,” Dixit, who is staying with relatives in the outskirts of Mumbai, told Reuters on Tuesday (June 23).
“It’s just emotional turmoil that we are in,” she said.
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 Talathi, has been trying to juggle his full-time job with child care for their 6 and 3-year-old daughters.
“I can see that they’re emotionally disturbed right now and they are losing weight,” he said.
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 Dixit said she has held on to her U.S.-based jobs during the pandemic, and Talathi said both his company and his wife’s are hiring.
“I don’t know how we are taking American jobs. It’s hilarious. And I mean, I see four million jobs open on LinkedIn,” he said.
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 main goal is to unify the family. I want the mom and kids to be together,” Talathi said.
If there is no other solution, he and the children will head to India.
“I’ll just break the lease and pack my stuff and keep it in storage for some months and go back to India and see. Like, if I step out of the USA, then I’m in the same queue as Poorva, so I’ll be banned as well. So we don’t know what after that, but at least we will all be together wherever we are,” he said.
(Production: Jane Ross)