Travel restrictions complicate student’s return home

Local News

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (WCIA) — Travel restrictions are growing more complicated by the week for a woman from India.

Prashasti Srivastav came to U of I for the spring semester as a study abroad student, but months later, she can’t leave.

After in-person classes were canceled in March, the initial issue became finding ways to fly home. She normally would have gone through Europe, which had imposed a travel ban. Srivastav then looked into flying through Canada, but that would require applying for a separate travel visa, an expensive alternative.

Fast forward to July.

“My country has flight restrictions, and even though they’ve started rescue flights, there’s still setbacks of me trying to go about it,” Srivastav said. “So, I’m stuck here.”

One setback: those flights could cost upwards of $1,500, but Srivastav is running out of money. Her dining hall job on campus ended after the spring semester, but she still has bills to pay for rent.

Complicating matters more, the U.S. Department of Transportation says if India is selling tickets for those flights, then they don’t count as true repatriation flights and hurt American companies. In late June, the department issued an order requiring Indian air carriers to apply for statements of authorization prior to conducting charter flights in an effort to level the playing field for U.S. airlines.

“I don’t know how to go back,” Srivastav says.

But her life and education at home is moving on, whether she’s there or not.

“It [classes] started online for me, so I have to stay in the Indian time zone and it’s hard,” she says. “I have to stay up because it’s 12 hours apart and I do my classes online.”

Srivastav’s J-1 visa (exchange visitor program) is set to expire July 15, with a grace period running through August 15.

Rental companies are unlikely to let her sign a new lease in Champaign-Urbana because of her expired visa, so she’ll have to stay with friends.

For now, all Srivastav can do is keep writing to the Embassy asking for help.

She wants to return to the U.S. one day to live and work here, but if she overstays her visa, she’s worried the U.S. will not allow her to come back, even if the reason for overstaying is COVID-19.

“It’s uncertain how to go back,” she says. “And for me, my whole school year has been ruined.”

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