Sraboni Bose was sitting in her parents’ home in India this week closely reading a proclamation signed by President Trump that restricted the entry of thousands of foreign workers and their families. As she did, she looked for any confirmation that it wouldn’t affect her family.
Her husband, a software engineer, was in Texas and had a current H-1B visa. Check.
She had come to India in February for her brother’s wedding, but had her H-4 visa —for spouses and children of certain foreign workers — stamped and renewed. Check.
Her 5-year-old daughter was set to get her H-4 visa renewed before the coronavirus pandemic prompted the US to halt regular processing of visas. Foreign workers and their families can receive extensions on their stay in America, but if they travel abroad, updated visa stamps are necessary to reenter the US. She had yet to get the stamp.
Bose, 32, read the order over and over, and every time she came to the same fear: Since her daughter did not have her valid visa on June 24 as required by the proclamation, she believes she will not be allowed to return to the US.
“I was devastated. We never imagined this would occur,” she told BuzzFeed News. “How can a 5-year-old affect the economy? She studies pre-K and wants to see her dad.”
Desperate, Bose tweeted about her family’s saga.
“How can A H4 minor waiting for stamping for 4 months in India affect the economy!?? @USCIS @StateDept . We have been waiting in India for four months for her F2F Interview which was cancelled in light of Covid-19. There should be some considerations when the H1 is in USA,” she wrote.
A State Department spokesperson said the agency could not comment on individual cases because visa records are confidential under federal law, and instead referred to the text of Trump's proclamation.
Bose is just one of thousands of people stuck abroad or who have family outside the US seeking answers on social media in the days since Trump signed his order suspending some employment-based visas for foreigners.
It’s a phenomenon that’s played out since the beginning of the Trump era: a broad order impacting thousands of people who are left confused, anxious, and seeking help or advice online.
The proclamation has spawned hashtags such as #excludeusfromban and #LetMeGoHome. Immigration attorneys who have put out calls for stories or offered advice have been inundated with replies and messages. The State Department has been responding to tweets all week on the order’s particulars. Even some reporters have been sought out for their expertise.
“The administration's execution of this and other immigration policies shows a complete disregard for the affected populations,” said Sarah Pierce, an analyst at the Migration Policy Institute. “Ideally, a major policy change like this one would have been accompanied by Q&As from relevant agencies to educate the public and efforts to reach out to stakeholders so they were prepared for the change. Instead, we've seen the affected population and their advocates reduced to seeking advice on their futures in 240-character bits.”
Trump’s proclamation details how “under ordinary circumstances, properly administered temporary worker programs can provide benefits to the economy.” But under the economic situation following the pandemic, “certain nonimmigrant visa programs authorizing such employment pose an unusual threat to the employment of American workers.”
The order, signed Monday, suspended H-1B visas for specialized highly skilled workers, most H-2B visas for nonagricultural seasonal workers, most J-1 visas for exchange visitors, and H-4 visas for those accompanying workers.
Sharvari Dalal-Dheini, director of government relations at the American Immigration Lawyers Association, said the conversations on Twitter were proof of “total confusion, lack of clear guidance, and fear for people’s livelihoods and their futures.”
The outpouring of questions and pleas for help this past week could also be attributed to the large number of people affected and the cumulative impact of yet another immigration order restricting access to the US, said Greg Siskind, a Tennessee-based immigration lawyer.
Siskind said he has received thousands of messages on social media. When he can’t get to a question on Twitter, people flood his LinkedIn, Facebook, and email seeking advice.
“This is the usual botched roll out we’ve gotten used to with this White House,” he said in reference to previous orders like the initial ban on travel from seven Muslim-majority countries that led to chaos at airports across the US.
This time around, he said, the order’s language has tripped up even the most seasoned of attorneys.
“The order itself is written confusingly so even the experts can’t really be sure who’s in and who’s out,” he said.
There are still questions on whether those who have current visas, but leave the US and go abroad, will be subject to the ban if they need new visa stamps to return.
Siskind said State Department officials have said online that these individuals would not be able to return to the US, but “that’s a complete contradiction of the plain language of the order.” He believes that those like Bose’s child could be denied entry.
Gayatri Patankar, a 32-year-old Arizona resident, was one of those who reached out to Siskind on Twitter. She had gone to India along with her infant and husband earlier this year. She had needed a new H1B visa stamp, but was unable to receive it because of the consulate closures. She later lost her job and hoped to return to the US on an H4 visa along with her husband.
“Hi, I came India with 2 month old infant for family reasons and have been stuck here since then. I have been studying/working in USA for 7 years now. We have our home, car and other belongings back in USA. Please help us go back home. This is not fair,” Patankar tweeted at Siskind.
She asked for help and guidance on Twitter, she added, because “we don’t know what else to do.”
Sakshi Sharma, a 30-year-old H-1B visa holder who lives in Baltimore, had been thinking about her husband when she went on social media. He had to leave the US for Canada once his student visa ran out.
Because of the proclamation, he will not be able to receive an H-4 visa to accompany her in the US.
“I am personally impacted by the family separation ban. I know friends who visited India to meet dying parents for one last time, leaving newly wedded spouse, home, car, everything in US and are now stuck! This is inhuman,” she tweeted.
She posted her predicament on Twitter because she wanted people to know that the proclamation “separates me from my husband..we have a lot of things planned for our personal and professional life for the next 6 -12 months, now with this ban we have lost all of that.”
Meanwhile, Bose is left with difficult conversations with her 5-year-old daughter on whether they will be able to return to the US anytime soon.
The family has lived in the US for the last three years.
“I don’t know how to explain it to her,” she said. “I told her, ‘Right now the proclamation is not letting us because they think some of us can work and that cannot help them because they want more work. It’s like you’re grounded or in a timeout. You can’t see your dad for another 6 months.’”
Correction: Sraboni Bose’s name was misspelled in an earlier version of this post.