The United States will ban some travel from India starting on May 4, 2021, a move that is long overdue in light of the USA’s use of travel bans as a tool to slow the spread of COVID-19. Even with the India travel ban, however, many exemptions will apply.
USA Introduces Partial India Travel Ban
While travel to the USA from China, where the virus has been largely stopped, and European Union, where the virus is under control in several nations, is banned for non-US citizens, the doors from India have been left wide open. This despite an alarming surge in cases and deaths that health experts believe are vastly undercounted.
Travel bans simply do not make sense on scientific grounds if they are applied to statistically low-risk countries and not to high-risk countries.
But earlier today the United Sates announced travel from India would be partially banned effective May 4, 2021.
India Travel Ban Exemptions
The ban is “partial” in that several exceptions apply, including for:
- U.S. citizens and permanent residents
- “Essential travelers”
- Family members of U.S. citizens
Foreign nationals will be banned if they have traveled to India within the last 14 days, even with a negative RT PCR test.
We are still waiting for more details on these exceptions, but if they are similar to bans imposed on travelers from other nations (including the European Union, United Kingdom, and South Africa) they include:
- J-1 academic and research scholars
- Workers who directly offer “vital support” of U.S. critical infrastructure sectors
- Travelers engaged in activities related to humanitarian relief, public health response, and national security
Exceptions no longer include the following workers and likely will not for India either:
- Professional athletes
- Technical experts and specialists
- Senior managers and executives
- Treaty traders and investors
(These exceptions are broadly called NIEs or National Interest Exceptions)
With the advance notice provided, non-exempt travelers have until Tuesday May 4, 2021 to enter the USA. Testing requirements will still apply.
Flights To India Will Continue
In terms of flights, at least for the short-term after the ban take effects, I expect carriers to continue service as usual. Currently, only Air India and United Airlines operate nonstop flights between the USA and India.
Even after passenger travel is restricted, the number of flights from India to the USA will not be restricted and the US has pledged $100 million in humanitarian aid to India as it faces a collapse of its fragile health infrastructure.
A United spokesperson indicated:
“The safety of our customers and employees is our top priority and we will comply with all government regulations and travel orders. United is proud of the essential air service we provide to connect our two countries and we’ll continue to support India during this time of need.”
Flights to other restricted regions have continued after flight bans and there is no reason to think United or Air India will suspend service anytime soon.
With cases continuing to rise in India (the nation set another record today in total number of new cases, 386,452), the travel ban was highly appropriate if the U.S. is going to be in the business of banning travel. In fact, it came weeks too late.
But there are several exceptions to the ban and hopefully the ban will be short-lived and India will succeed in getting cases under control once again.