May 1

By Namita Kohli

On Friday, US President Joe Biden released a presidential proclamation restricting travel from India to the US, citing “extraordinarily high COVID-19 caseloads and multiple variants circulating in India”. The ban is applicable to all non-citizens who have stayed in India in the past 14 days, though US nationals, those on Green Cards, their non-citizen spouses and children below 21 years of age, are exempted from the restrictions.

The move has stirred up a political storm in the US, with the opposition Republicans leading the line in decrying the proclamation.

Biden said there have been more than 3,00,000 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 new travel restrictions have been imposed for an indefinite period and will require another presidential proclamation to end it.

Politics against the move

Republican lawmakers criticised President Joe Biden for the restrictions. “Restricting travel to our ally India while leaving our border open to Mexico is not rational,” Congressman Tim Burchett said in a tweet, soon after the White House announced Biden’s decision.

Another Republican lawmaker Jodey Arrington also criticised Biden for this proclamation on travel. “Biden enacting an India travel ban while keeping the border open is like locking your front door, but leaving the back door wide open. I wonder if the Left will accuse him of being xenophobic and anti-Hindu,” Arrington asked.

“As Biden bans flights from India, perhaps he should be reminded of a tweet he put out last year. Also, I thought travel bans were xenophobic,” Congresswoman Lauren Boebert said in a tweet.

After the then president Donald Trump had imposed travel ban from Europe, Biden then the Democratic presidential candidate, had opposed it. “A wall will not stop coronavirus. Banning all travel from Europe or any other part of the world will not stop it. The disease could impact every nation and any person on the planet and we need a plan to combat it,” Biden had said in a tweet on March 12 last year.

Indian-American Congressman Ro Khanna, however, supported the travel ban. “I support the Biden Administration’s travel restrictions from India, which many in the Indian American community have called for,” he said. But what we really need to do is prioritise lives over excess profits. Pfizer and Moderna need to license their vaccine formulas, Khanna said.