74-yr-old American tourist moves court to remain in Kerala, says he feels safer there

Johnny Paul Pierce says he fell in love with Kerala and its health care system in the five months he spent in the state after being stranded due to the coronavirus pandemic.
74-yr-old American tourist moves court to remain in Kerala, says he feels safer there

The COVID-19 lockdown left hundreds of foreign tourists stranded in India and scrambling to get back home. But for American national Johnny Paul Walker who has been stranded in Kerala for the past five months, the lockdown has had a reverse effect.

The 74-year-old man from California has now decided to extend his stay in Kerala after having a peaceful experience in the state during the lockdown. Compared to the US, he says he feels safer in Kerala, his lawyer told TNM.

“He is impressed with the beauty of the state and its health care system. He says that back home in the US, coronavirus cases are rising. He is 74 and if he goes back now, he could catch the infection. He is also impressed with the way Kerala is handling the pandemic,” Advocate Saju S Nair, who moved the High Court to get Johnny’s stay extended, told TNM.

Johnn arrived in Kerala on February 26, 2020, on his fifth visit to the state. Soon after his arrival, the government announced a total lockdown triggered by the pandemic, making it impossible to fly out.

Since then, the 74-year-old has been living in a hotel in Ernakulam’s Kandandu, where he has spent the last five months. With the help of his counsel, he has now moved the Kerala High Court to convert his tourist visa into a business visa and also to extend his stay without having to leave the country.

“His idea is to start a tourist centre in Kerala and explore the potential for tourism in the state. For this purpose he wants to extend his stay and also get a business visa,” Saju added.

As per India’s immigration rules, with an electronic Indian tourist visa, each stay can last a maximum of 180 days or six months for UK, USA, Canada or Japan passport holders. E-visas for India are not extendable. Business visas for India too, allow foreign nationals to stay for a maximum of 180 days.

According to Saju, Johnny would complete 180 days of stay in India by August 24, 2020, after which he has to leave the country.

According to the Bureau of Immigration’s guidelines on travel and visa restrictions related to COVID-19, “regular visa, e-visa or stay stipulation of foreign nationals whose visa have expired from 01.02.2020 (midnight) till the date on which prohibition on international air travel of passengers from India is lifted by the Government of India, would be extended on ‘Gratis’ basis.”

These foreign nationals can submit an online application for extension of visa, and such extensions will be granted for a period of 30 days from the date of the lifting of the prohibition on international air travel of passengers from India.

“Our petition requests for an extension of stay not for 30 days, but 180 days and in the meantime, conversion of the tourist visa to a business visa as Johnny is interested in exploring the tourism potential in the state. Since he is a regular visitor to Kerala and is also a senior citizen, we have asked that our plea be considered on a humanitarian basis,” Saju added. 

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