KOCHI: Foreigners stranded in India due to travel restrictions are desperate to get back to their countries. But the five-month stay in Kerala has been a soul-soothing experience for 74-year-old US citizen Johnny Paul Pierce who now wants to spend the rest of his life in the God’s Own Country. Pierce has approached the Kerala High Court seeking to convert his tourist visa into a business visa.
“My aspiration is to show a viable business model and get a five-year business visa. The easiest way to become a resident is to marry an Indian, but I am 74 and probably past that option,” he said. Johnny is planning to set up a centre for foreigners and explore the tourism potential in Kerala. “I would recruit residents from the USA. Those who could afford to stay long term are generally the retired folks who are at the risk of contracting the virus in the USA,” says Pierce.
“I am absolutely safe in Kerala where the entire state has only reported 25 deaths (sic),” Pierce told TNIE.
Pierce approached the court through advocate Saju S Nair and his petition will be considered on Tuesday.
He sought a directive to the government to permit him to apply for conversion of his tourist visa into a business visa without having to leave the country.
He came to India on February 26 on a tourist visa, which is valid up to January 26, 2025. He is staying at Kandanadu in Ernakulam and, after the lockdown was imposed, he got stranded there. This is his fifth visit to India as a tourist. The guidelines of the Indian government permit continuous stay for only 180 days for foreigners on tourist visas. His 180 days is going to expire on August 24.
‘I’m a hermit, so I’ve enjoyed the lockdown’
Without leaving the country, he cannot apply for conversion of his tourist visa into a business visa. “It’s risky to travel to the US at the age of 74. It is chaos there. And I love Kerala. I don’t want to go back and I would like to live here peacefully,” said Pierce.“ Actually, I am a hermit, so I have enjoyed the lockdown because I experience much more meditation. Right now is the time for preparation and establishing more contacts in the hotel industry. I have found that many resorts are up for lease at wonderful prices and I am looking for a resort to lease near Wagamon. I hope to find a place with several rooms that I could establish as a Covid-free zone,” he said.
Wagamon is perfect, according to him, because it is not crowded and he would want it to be a location far from the madding crowd. He also plans to produce a film. “My Indian friend Rajesh has always been with me. Rajesh is a scriptwriter and we have plans to produce a movie. We have been on to at least a dozen movie sets. Since most entertainment is now online and not in theatres, we are making the dialogue much more in English instead of Malayalam to give it a more universal appeal. We have entered the preproduction stage and are about to give a casting call. Our location will be in and around Wagamon,” he said.