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NRI Helpdesk: Can you travel to the U.S. from India via a third country to avoid travel restrictions?

With immigration rules constantly changing with the pandemic situation, it is difficult to keep up to date with it all.

For our NRI readers, we have started an immigration helpdesk. Write to us at nri.economictimes@gmail.com and our team of experts will address the most pressing issues.

*Please note that questions have been edited and/or clubbed so that we can address similar queries at once and that the answers are clear and relevant to our audience.

Can a B-1/B-2 visa holder travel to the U.S. from India after spending 14 days in a third country before arriving in the U.S.?

The short answer is, yes. This is definitely a way to overcome the travel restrictions that apply to most travelers who have been in India within the 14 days prior to anticipated arrival in the U.S. The challenge is to get to a third country that is accepting travelers from India. Further, Indian nationals may need a visa to travel to the third country, which may pose an additional challenge as visa services for most countries remain suspended in India due to local lockdown conditions. It would be a good idea to check with a proficient travel agent to determine which country(ies) will accept travelers from India and which of these allow for visa-free travel or give visas on arrival to Indian nationals.

Please note that anyone traveling to the U.S. by air must provide evidence of a negative COVID-19 test taken within three days of travel or evidence of recovery from a recent COVID-19 infection.

We have a valid return ticket to Lagos but Etihad has not started yet. It is more than a year now. Can we claim our NRI Status or will have to pay taxes?

I am not a tax advisor but am aware that NRI tax status could be lost due to extended physical presence in India. We advise you to contact a tax lawyer or a CA who has knowledge in such matters.

I am a green card holder and came to India in October 2018 on a 2-year travel permit valid up to 19th November 2020. Can I travel to the U.S. or must I apply for an SB-1 visa?

If an airline will onboard you for travel to the U.S. you should do so and request Customs and Border Patrol (CBP – immigration officers) at the port of entry to grant you admission into the country. It is important to take this approach under the guidance of a qualified attorney. You are most likely to be admitted into the country but may be subject to additional questioning and in some circumstances may have to present your case before an immigration judge. If you face difficulty with boarding a plane to the U.S. you may ask the airline to communicate with CBP’s Regional Carrier Liaison Group for assistance with their request to allow boarding.

My wife and I hold valid L visas (L-1 and L-2). Our son is 7 years old and is an American citizen. Currently, we all are in India. Can we all travel together to US based on the exemption? What proof do we need to provide while traveling to the U.S.?

Yes, you can travel to the U.S. because nonimmigrant visa holders (including L visa holders) are not subject to travel ban based on their familial relationship to a U.S. citizen or LPR spouse or unmarried minor child and do not need an NIE (national interest exception). This is true even if the minor child is not traveling with the parent. Such travelers must present proof of the qualifying relationship to airline officials when initiating travel to the United States.

I am in the U.S. on an H-1B visa but need to visit India for a family emergency. Will I be subject to the travel ban from India? Would I be eligible for a National Interest Exception?

Yes, you will be subject to the travel ban unless you need to travel to the U.S. for support or executive direction for critical infrastructure or to provide vital support or executive direction for significant economic activity in the United States. You may also qualify for an NIE if your work is related to public health response or national security. If you think you qualify for an NIE, you must contact the Consulate or Embassy in your jurisdiction to procure an NIE.

Please note that nonimmigrant visa holders (including H-1B holders), who are not subject to travel ban based on their familial relationship to a U.S. citizen or LPR spouse or unmarried minor child, do not need an NIE. Such travelers should present proof of the qualifying relationship to airline officials when initiating travel to the United States.

I need an M-1 Visa to join acting school in July 2021. Do I qualify for an NIE? Is there any other way to work around the restrictions on travel from India?

M-1 students who are subject to the travel ban because of physical presence in India may be eligible for NIE if the start date of their program is August 1, 2021 or later. Students seeking to apply for new F-1or M-1 visas should check the status of visa services at the nearest Embassy or Consulate; those applicants who are found to be otherwise qualified for an F-1 or M-1 visa will automatically be considered for an NIE to travel. However, at present U.S. Consulates and the Embassy in India are not scheduling visa interviews, which are mandatory for most visa applicants. You should monitor the situation carefully for updates on these services. Students who have a valid F-1 or M-1 visa may spend 14 days in a third country before seeking to enter the U.S. Please see our response to another question above on this topic in today’s edition of FAQs.

Poorvi Chothani, Managing partner, LawQuest

The author’s views do not necessarily represent the views of ET Online nor do they constitute legal advice or representation. Practice tips provided in the written materials are based on the author’s experiences and the current state of the law and regulations. Please be sure to conduct legal research and analysis, or engage independent counsel for your unique situation as the law and requirements change quickly and the author’s experiences may differ from your own.

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