the distress of Europeans stranded on both sides of the Atlantic


As EU countries prepare to welcome vaccinated American tourists, the United States continues to impose strict restrictions on access to its territory in the name of the fight against Covid-19. Tens of thousands of expatriates have been separated from their families or their professional environment for more than a year, while the queues are growing to obtain a visa.

They will soon be able to sunbathe on the Costa Del Sol, stroll through the streets of Rome or even visit the Louvre Museum. American tourists vaccinated will be able to have a good time in Europe again after a 15-month stay ban under the fight against Covid-19.

Europeans, for their part, will not taste this luxury across the Atlantic. Worse, tens of thousands of families, couples and friends remain separated by 8,000 km and an ocean.

In question, the “Travel Ban”. Briefly dismissed by Donald Trump, Joe biden, which has made the fight against the pandemic its top priority, reinstated at the end of January the ban on entry into the United States for all travelers “physically present during the last 14 days” in the Schengen area, in the Kingdom United and Ireland.

>> To see on France 24: Covid-19: wind of optimism in New York, where mass vaccination continues

On social networks, the discontent and bitterness of Europeans is mounting through the hashtags #LiftTheTravelBan or #LoveIsNotTourism, while several petitions call for the reopening of the American borders.

Today, only holders of the famous “Green Card”, journalists, diplomats, students or even binationals have a right of entry. On the other hand, business travelers, investors and even employees stationed in the United States find themselves stranded.

“Our children cry every night”

Even holders of long-term visas linked to a professional activity are not spared. These so-called non-immigrant visa holders must apply for a national interest exception (NIE) in order to be able to return to the United States.

However, these derogatory visas are issued in a trickle and “the conditions of attribution remain opaque”, assures France 24 Isabelle Marcus, who heads a consulting firm in matters of immigration and financial management in the United States. “There is the theory but in practice, their delivery remains very uncertain”.

Result: most expatriates holding long-term visas prefer to give up coming to France or else they will not be able to return to the United States. “It would be taking too great a risk. Overnight, we could find ourselves without a job, without a house, without a school if we remained stuck in France ”, explains Caroline Ruszkowski, a Frenchwoman living in Los Angeles with her husband for five years. “Our children cry every night wondering if they will be able to see their grandparents and childhood friends again. It’s hard”.

“I pay my taxes in the United States, I have my job in the United States, the whole family is vaccinated, it is extremely frustrating,” laments Vincent Taglioni, who has not returned to France for two years. “We no longer see the link with the health crisis. We feel discriminated against ”.

One year wait for a visa

Faced with these movement restrictions, expatriate Europeans are often forced to go through a third country to return to the United States, most of the time Mexico, countries where the virus is still circulating.

Julien Girard, astrophysicist in Baltimore, who plans to return to France this summer, is considering this solution with apprehension. “Spending two or three weeks in Mexico, we take risks, we spend money, we stress and we waste time. I know that people suffer a lot more and that it can appear as ‘a problem of the rich’ but it ‘is an absurd situation “.

As for Europeans who wish to make a first visa or renew a residence permit, the delays have become impossible. According to the State Department website, it takes more than 400 days to get an appointment for a nonimmigrant visa at the US Embassy in Paris, while in London only emergencies are currently handled by diplomatic services. .

“It’s a pretty surreal situation,” confirms Damien Régnard, senator for the French abroad. “The American diplomatic network is under great strain because of teleworking and the lack of staff.”

Towards an unblocking of the situation at the G7?

As vaccinated Americans prepare to return safely to the Old Continent, more and more voices are calling for reciprocity on both sides of the Atlantic.

“The Europeans must encourage the United States to state the health criteria that determine the lifting or maintenance of restrictions, in order to visualize a horizon of reopening”, pleads the doctor in political science Célia Belin in a column published in the newspaper Le Monde.

But for the moment, no lifting of the “Travel Ban” is on the agenda. “The CDC (Center fo Disease Control), like other federal agencies, values ​​its autonomy and independence from political power and maintains a fairly firm position but not always very Cartesian”, analyzes Damien Régnard. “In reality, there is only one person today who can break this lock. This is President Biden. It is in the interest of the United States because we are vaccinated, tested and economic life has to restart. “

The arrival of the American president in Europe for the G7 then for a summit with the European Union on June 15 gives hope for an evolution of the traffic restrictions even if officially this question will not be on the agenda.

>> To read on France 24: Covid-19: who can enter and leave French territory from June 9?

“Our authorities with their European partners are working hard to obtain flexibility, but there is currently no procedure in progress”, specifies Hervé Linder, lawyer specializing in immigration issues in New York, who shows himself. little optimistic about a rapid unblocking of the situation.

“Part of the problem is that Europe distinguishes between vaccinated and unvaccinated travelers. This is not the case in the United States, where discriminatory criteria are closely watched ”.

It is therefore the status quo that could win, with as collateral victims thousands of European families plunged for more than a year in anguish and uncertainty.

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