- Embassy officials say no instructions from Foreign Ministry yet
By Ashwin Hemmathagama
in New York
Unable to return to Sri Lanka, 280 Sri Lankan nationals are stranded in the United States, with long-distance flights cancelled due to the COVID-19 outbreak.
These Sri have arrived in the United States well before the shutdown of US services in February, on B1 and B2 visas obtained from the US embassy in Colombo, to visit their relatives and to take part in business meetings. With key US airports closing down and enforcing restrictions on international flight operations, these Sri Lankans are now unable to return home.
In the hope of arranging a return flight, the Sri Lankan Embassy in Washington has prepared a long list of potential travellers and sent it for further advice to the Ministry of Foreign Relations in Colombo. According to a senior diplomatic officer in the Sri Lankan Embassy in Washington, no guidance has been received from Colombo to arrange the return flight to date.
“We have sent two letters with the list of names to the Ministry, seeking instructions. We did this ever since their problem was brought to the notice of the Embassy. In the absence of instructions from the Foreign Ministry, we are unable to do anything for these people to get back home. We do understand their issues. But we are all in a difficult period and have limitations,” he said.
On 4 May, the Embassy sent 38 Sri Lankan students from the United States to the United Kingdom. With the help of national carrier Sri Lankan Airlines, these students have managed to secure seats to Sri Lanka soon after they arrived in London.
“Some of these Sri Lankans now in the United States may have visa issues. They could have been issued with visas with time restrictions enforced by the US embassy in Colombo. In such a scenario, they need to get in touch with the US Department of Homeland Security. The link published on the Sri Lankan Embassy website http://slembassyusa.org/new/images/Online_Visa_Extension_USCIS_1.pdf provides the necessary information to apply for the US visa extension on a timely manner,” he added.