When the United States of America (USA) went into lockdown and suspended commercial operations of all international flights due to the coronavirus pandemic earlier this year, several Indians, especially from the Telugu states of Telangana and Andhra Pradesh, were stranded in the country. Many of these people were students, and they turned to Telugu associations in the US, which have a strong network spread across the country.
Speaking to The News Minute, Paramesh Beemreddy, President of the American Telugu Association (ATA) said that as soon as the pandemic struck, several dormitories closed, thereby leaving many people without accommodation. This was the first challenge they faced.
"Some wanted to go back home but flights had stopped. Some people who approached us had even run out of money to buy groceries. We spoke with universities to ensure that they accommodated students. We gave money for groceries to those who needed it and also arranged a few flight tickets for emergency cases," he said
"Within our limits, we also coordinated, organised and purchased groceries for senior citizens who couldn't step out, besides forming a group of doctors to seek medical advice. We also held seminars and awareness campaigns to encourage people to stay safe amid the pandemic," he added.
The ATA also helped people in Telangana and Andhra Pradesh during the pandemic, by providing groceries and other essentials to those who needed it, in Hyderabad, Vijayawada and other places.
In a joint statement to TNM, North American Telugu Association (NATA) President Dr Raghava Reddy Ghosala and Secretary Alli Rami Reddy said, "As soon as the pandemic hit, some students needed temporary housing as their campuses were closed. Many didn't have face masks. Others had family emergencies and wanted to go to India immediately."
They said that many people on a visitors visa were also concerned as its 6-month limit was expiring and they were worried about overstaying their visit.
"There were also concerns about H1-B visa extensions as the immigration process is slow. We helped several visitors with travel-related help. We spoke to the Indian Counsel General and arranged for some of them to travel. We also distributed food and groceries to elderly and students with no means of transportation," they said.
The organisation has also been helping people back home in India.
"We distributed vegetables and groceries to families in the rural areas of Telangana and Andha Pradesh besides donating Rs 10 lakh each to the Chief Minister's Relief Fund (CMRF) of both states. We offered housing to students after campuses were closed and also held webinars to offer immigration-related help," they added.
Even as people were dealing with the pandemic, US President Donald Trump issued a Presidential Proclamation that suspended the entry of immigrants for a 60-day period. This was followed by a decision to suspend H-1B and H-4 visas for the rest of the year.
Indians are the largest recipients of the H-1B visa, and among them, people from Telangana and Andhra Pradesh constitute a large chunk.
With this move, the associations say that they began receiving several more calls, as people were confused and worried about what would happen to them. But the associations are also confident that the move is not an economically feasible one in the long run.
In an interview with a local Telugu TV channel, Telugu Association of North America (TANA) President Jay Talluri said, "I look at it as a big opportunity because more work will go to India. No one can stop globalisation. If rules are tighter, work will go to wherever there is enough skilled labour."
Others agree. "It's a temporary move. I do not think it will be extended beyond December. While some people may suffer in the short-term, in the long run, it will help Indian companies more," Paramesh from ATA said.
Speaking about the possible consequences of the move, NATA in its statement said, "Very few skilled labor visas will be issued this year and possibly next year also. But after a year, things should get back to normal. The USA needs skilled labor for new innovations and Indians contribute a lot in those areas. If the USA makes tighter rules, outsourcing will increase. In either case, it would be beneficial to skilled labor."