Coming Up Sun 9:00 PM  AEST
Coming Up Live in 
Live
Malayalam radio

'My dad died, I don’t know how to get to India': Travel restrictions leave Australian Indians desperate

“I was hoping that no one would be in an urgent situation to travel to India, but I didn’t realise it would apply to me,” says Ani* who is trying to travel to India after her father died.

Within a day of India imposing a month-long blanket entry ban for foreign nationals and OCI cardholders because of the coronavirus pandemic, Indian Australians are feeling the effects. 

Ani, who lives in Cherrybrook in north-west Sydney, is one among them. 

“My dad died last night. I have an OCI card, but I am not able to travel. It is really hard,” she told SBS Malayalam. 

Passengers at the Indira Gandhi International airport in New Delhi, India, 12 March 2020.
Passengers at the Indira Gandhi International airport in New Delhi, India, 12 March 2020.
AAP

Ani’s 81-year-old father Kuruvila  died of a heart attack in Ranni in the southern Indian state of Kerala. 

“We contacted the Indian High Commission in Australia as per the advisory issued by the Indian government, but their reply suggested that it would take long to get an emergency visa.”

The Indian government on Wednesday announced stringent travel restrictions aimed at controlling the spread of Covid-19 virus, soon after the World Health Organisation declared it a pandemic. 

Passengers use protective masks at Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose International Airport in Kolkata, Eastern India, 13 March 2020.
Passengers use protective masks at Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose International Airport in Kolkata, Eastern India, 13 March 2020.
AAP

“Visa-free travel facility granted to OCI cardholders who are not in India presently shall be kept in abeyance till April 15, 2020.  This will come into effect from 1200 GMT on March 13, 2020 at the port of departure of any foreigner for onward journey to India,” an advisory released by the Bureau of Immigration in India said.  

However, the advisory added that any foreign national and OCI cardholder could contact the nearest Indian embassy or mission and get a fresh visa in "compelling situations". 

FAQ issued by the bureau clarifies that they can get a fresh visa from Indian mission/post. 

"Apply manually, Ministry to clear"

But the reply Ani got from the High Commission was different. 

“Since it was Friday night the only option for us was to contact via the emergency contact number of the High Commission,” said Ani’s husband Abraham*. 

“It was recommended to send a text message with all the details and I did so. And this was the reply I got.”

India travel restrictions due to coronavirus
Supplied

The High Commission gave a four-step procedure for getting an emergency visa.

It advised them to apply at VFS on a manual application form with other documents. Then the VFS will raise the visa request to the Consulate, which will subsequently refer it to the Ministry of External Affairs in India. 

Only after receiving clearance from the ministry in New Delhi, they can pay the visa fee. 

“Visa will be issued either on regular processing time or emergency depending on [the] circumstances,” says the SMS reply.

As now Consulate does not have authority to issue visa without Ministry’s approval. Hence we have to follow above procedure.

When Mr Kurian asked for more details, this was the reply:

“My dear sir, I sent you the procedure. Please follow.”

Long wait for emergency visa?

Ani Abraham has now decided to go to the VFS Global office in Sydney on Monday morning and submit a manual application.  VFS administers visa and passport related issues on behalf of the Indian government. 

“We don’t know how long it will take then. Our family in India is waiting for me,” she said. 

“When I read the news about the travel restrictions, I was really hoping that nobody will have such an emergency situation. But I am facing it.”

Sydney based travel agent Jiju Peter says it's not the only case. 

“There is a similar case in Brisbane. He is an Indian-Australian but does not hold an OCI card. He is also going through a similar struggle after his mother died yesterday.”

He said that there is apparently a lack of clarity about how visas could be issued for OCI cardholders in such an emergency situation. 

The Indian High Commission in Canberra has been contacted for comment.

(*Surnames have been withheld as per request)