US President Joe Biden on Friday issued a proclamation, restricting travel to the United States of all non-citizens who have stayed in India in the past 14 days.
The proclamation, which comes into effect on May 4, has been issued due to the ''extraordinarily high COVID-19 caseloads and multiple variants circulating in India''.
US nationals, those on Green Cards, their non-citizen spouses and children below 21 years of age, are among the various categories exempted from the restrictions. The new travel restrictions have been imposed for an indefinite period and will require another presidential proclamation to end it.
''I have determined that it is in the interests of the United States to take action to restrict and suspend the entry into the United States, as nonimmigrants, of non-citizens of the United States who were physically present within the Republic of India during the 14-day period preceding their entry or attempted entry into the United States,'' Biden said.
However, the Biden administration has announced that certain categories of students, academics, and journalists are exempted from the new set of travel restrictions. "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," the US State Department said.
Students seeking to commence studies in the fall, certain academics, journalists, and individuals who provide critical infrastructure support in countries affected by a geographic COVID-19 restriction may qualify for a National Interest Exception. This includes qualified applicants who have been present in India, Brazil, China, Iran, or South Africa, according to a State Department release. "As the global situation evolves, the Department continues to seek ways to process more visa applications, in line with science-based guidance from health authorities, and with the health and safety of staff and applicants as our priority," the State Department said.
The decision has been taken at the recommendation of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), within the Department of Health and Human Services, which determined India is experiencing widespread, person-to-person transmission of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.
“The World Health Organization has reported that the Republic of India has had more than 18,375,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19. The magnitude and scope of the COVID-19 pandemic in India surging,” Biden said, adding that India accounts for over one-third of new global cases. The number of new cases in India is accelerating at a rapid rate, he said.
Biden said there have been more than 300,000 average new daily cases in India over the past week.
A variant strain of the virus, known as B.1.617, is also circulating in India, along with other variant strains, including B.1.1.7, first detected in the United Kingdom, and B.1.351, first detected in the Republic of South Africa.
“The CDC advises, based on work by public health and scientific experts, that these variants have characteristics of concern, which may make them more easily transmitted and have the potential for reduced protection afforded by some vaccines,” said the proclamation.
After reviewing the public health situation within India, the CDC has concluded that proactive measures are required to protect the nation's public health from travellers entering the United States from that jurisdiction, he said.