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Indian students added to US travel exemptions list

Washington: After the US announced travel restrictions on India which are set to start on May 4, the Biden administration has further 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 State Department also announced on Friday it is sending a top career diplomat to India as the country grapples with a crippling wave of coronavirus cases.

The department said in a statement that it is sending Daniel Smith, a former acting secretary of State and acting deputy secretary of State, to temporarily serve as the charge d’affaires at the U.S Embassy in New Delhi.Smith currently serves as the director of the Foreign Service Institute and holds the rank of career ambassador, the highest Foreign Service rank.

“Ambassador Smith’s appointment underscores the United States’ strong commitment to our partnership with the Government of India and the Indian people. He will spearhead close cooperation with India to ensure that our countries continue to advance our shared priorities, including overcoming the global pandemic,” the State Department said.

“The United States stands in solidarity with India, and Ambassador Smith is committed to working together with India in partnership.”Meanwhile, the White House said that the US will ban most travel from India starting Tuesday amid a surge in coronavirus cases in the country.

“On the advice of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Administration will restrict travel from India starting immediately,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said on Friday, according to The Hill.

“The policy will be implemented in light of extraordinarily high COVID-19 caseloads and multiple variants circulating in the India,” she added. “The policy will take effect on Tuesday, May 4.”

The move comes on top of international travel restrictions already in place requiring people to have a negative test result before coming to the United States. The move is not expected to apply to U.S. citizens.

India on Friday recorded 3,86,452 new COVID-19 cases in the last 24 hours. This is the highest single-day spike in the cases since the pandemic began last year.According to the Union Health Ministry, as many as 3,498 deaths and 2,97,540 recoveries were also recorded in the last 24 hours.

The cumulative count of the COVID-19 cases has gone up to 1,87,62,976. The total active cases of the infection in India have now mounted to 31,70,228. As many as 2,08,330 people have succumbed to the disease so far. A total of 1,53,84,418 people have recovered from the disease till now.