When Sindhu Turumalla’s son could not articulate words at the age of four-and-a-half, she and her husband decided to enrol him in speech therapy near their home in Dallas, Texas. The treatment was sponsored by the state, and Turumalla said they did not have to spend a cent.
Over the last two years, she said, the young boy has been making “tremendous progress”. But now the treatment has been put on indefinite hold – owing to last month’s visa suspension by the United States government.
“My son and I are dependents of my husband. What possible threat could we be to the economy?” she said from Visakhapatnam in India, where they traveled to earlier this year. “We are in limbo. All we’re waiting for is a stamp in our passport. That’s the only thing stopping us from going back home.”
There has been much coverage of US President Donald Trump’s decision to suspend worker visas until the end of the year and how that will affect those hoping to get the much coveted H-1B visa. But Trump’s order extends beyond the H-1B.
It also covers L-1 visas, which allow a company to internally transfer employees from India or another country to an American office. the order also affects those on dependent visas like the L-2 and H-4, which are for the spouses and children of those who are in the US on worker visas.
Turumalla travelled to India in late February with her son in tow so that her mother-in-law, who had been diagnosed with stage 4 cancer, could meet her grandson.
A dependent of her husband – an L1-A visa holder – the 33-year-old woman now needs to get her L-2 visa stamped by the local US consulate before returning home.
“Our plan was to return to the United States in April as our visa interview was scheduled for March 17,” she said. But two days before her appointment, the US consulates in India shut down due to the coronavirus outbreak.
“We kept hoping that probably by May or June we would come to know about an update,” she said. However, the June 22 order suspending visas until the end of the year dashed those hopes.
‘Even stricter measures’
Now Turumalla hopes are pinned on the possibility of an amendment – at least for dependents – on July 23, since the order allows for modifications from 30 days after it was issued.
However, immigration lawyer Greg Siskind isn’t particularly optimistic.
“Trump has shown no interest in relaxing provisions on any of the previous bans and has only accelerated his anti-immigration agenda since the June 22 ban took effect,” he told Scroll.in over email. “He’s supposed to give a 30-day update, but he could use that as an excuse to impose even stricter measures.”
Nadir Ismayil, a Washington-based immigration attorney, agrees. “So far there hasn’t been any signal that the proclamation will be amended” or that it will not go beyond December 31, he said.
“The plain language of the proclamation indicates there is clearly a possibility that it may get extended,” he said. “There is no way around this and on an individual level, it can be highly impactful. It is affecting careers and lives.”
‘What’s coming next?’
Like Turumalla, 37-year-old Abhijeet Khatake has also been forced apart from his wife, his three-and-a-half-year-old son and six-month-old daughter, who are in Charlotte, North Carolina.
He travelled to Pune in late December, a day after his wife had the baby, as his B visa was due to expire.
The last six months have been tough, especially for his wife, who he says is having to manage two young children by herself. “It is really challenging for her,” Khatake said. “We requested for an emergency appointment at the US consulate, but it didn’t go through.”
Khatake has been approved for an L1-A visa and is now awaiting a stamp in his passport.
The move has created a lot of anxiety among Ismayil’s clients – even those who are in the country and are unaffected by the proclamation.
“I’ve been receiving a lot of anxious e-mails from clients. It just creates a chain reaction and people are genuinely nervous,” he says, adding: “The fear is: what’s coming next? Everybody is living on hope, but there’s no real reason to assume there won’t be another proclamation that could affect them. We just don’t know.”