NEW DELHI: The US, with almost 33,000 of its nationals stranded in India, will get special flights out of India most probably as soon as India lifts the commercial flights ban. According to officials, both countries are currently getting the permissions ready.
However, the Indian government is not yet ready to bring back those in other countries yet — as India battles the coronavirus internally, the government has asked Indian citizens overseas to ‘shelter in place’.
US ambassador, Ken Juster tweeted “The US Mission to India continues to work with @StateDept and airline companies regarding initial flights, which most likely will depart from New Delhi and Mumbai. We will seek to facilitate travel from other cities in India as flights become available.”
The issue featured in a conversation between US deputy Secretary of State, Steve Biegun and foreign secretary Harsh Shringla on Friday. India asked the US to relax rules for H-1B visa holders, which currently requires them to leave the US to apply for a renewal. In the current circumstances, that might be difficult. India has also asked for similar rules for other visa holders to be relaxed during this period of an almost global lockdown.
Earlier this week, MEA announced that India would extend all visas which may be expiring free of cost, with only an inline application required at the FRRO, obviating the necessity of a physical appearance. The US side has agreed to work with their own Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to facilitate Indian visa holders.
For its part the US — now joined by other countries — want India to relax its export ban for some crucial generic drugs necessary during this period. India is the world’s largest producer of drugs like hydroxychloroquine and others, even paracetamol, and an export ban post COVID-19 outbreak is not helping other countries. The UAE and other Gulf countries, as well as SAARC neighbours have already asked for a relaxation of the Indian ban. The government is exploring how to allow exports as well as maintain stocks for India’s own use.
Meanwhile, the US announced on Friday it would give $174 million financial assistance to 64 countries including $2.9 million to India to help them fight the coronavirus pandemic. The US State Department said it is providing $2.9 million to help the Indian government prepare laboratory systems, activate case finding and event-based surveillance, and support technical experts for response and preparedness, according to the US State Department. “This builds upon the foundation of more than $1.4 billion in health assistance out of the more than $2.8 billion in US assistance for India over the last 20 years,” the State Department said.
US official, Ian Brownlee told journalists, they were looking at numerous options to evacuate stranded American nationals from India. “We’re looking at 1,500 or so people in the New Delhi area who have identified themselves. We’re looking at multiple hundreds in the Mumbai area and another probably 6-, 700 in the Mumbai area who have identified themselves as being interested, and then another multiple hundreds – 3-, 400 range elsewhere in India.”