It is time to re-open up to Europe – and not just to tourists


On May 19, 27 member states of the European Union agreed To reopen its borders to visitors who have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 early at the end of the month. Countries will retain the ability to request additional testing or quarantine, or to cancel restrictions in the event of an emergency. Americans can finally travel to Europe for the first time in 14 months. But planes will only fly in one direction. Europeans are still prohibited from visiting the United States.

Although the previous one Reports To reopen the United States by mid-May, the Biden administration provided no indication that it intended to reciprocate. Indeed, conditions for an exceptional permit to travel to the United States appear to have tightened against Europeans in recent months. Even so, many still eagerly awaited the opportunity to travel, a fundamental freedom often mixed with tourism.

In particular, tens of thousands of non-immigrant European visa holders in the United States – whether they are investors, temporary workers, or other types of exchange visitors – are still told that they cannot return to their countries of origin – because, if they are leaving, they may not be allowed. They have to return to their temporary home in the United States. I am one of them. For us, the cleanser has lasted a long time. Visa processing should resume on a regular basis for the relief of long-separated people, while considering avenues towards a gradual and complete reopening in Europe.


At the start of the COVID-19 crisis, the transatlantic travel ban seemed inevitable and swift. On March 11, 2020, President Donald Trump announced that it would be so Suspension Entry to all non-US citizens who were “physically present in the Schengen Area during the 14-day period prior to their entry or attempted entry into the United States.” similar resolution Soon it was released in connection with the United Kingdom and Ireland. Then, on March 16, the European Commission Invited Member states to restrict non-essential travel, which they are I did After a brief period. As global cohesion occurred, Millions They were repatriated both ways across the Atlantic, and many were carrying the virus with them.

Given the enormous sacrifices required of all strata of society to limit the spread of the virus, travel seemed nearly trivial. As the months passed, few people called for the travel ban to be lifted – even as domestic mobility resumed, within the United States as well as in the European Union.

As the United States faced new waves of COVID-19 and the specter of dangerous variants, Washington extended travel bans to Brazil (May 2020), South Africa (January 2021) and India (April 2021). Meanwhile, the effective travel ban imposed on Europe (Schengen, the United Kingdom and Ireland) is the longest in America, just below the bans affecting China and Iran. The human consequences are all very real. Over time, personal separation tragedies have appeared on social networks under hashtags like #LoveIsEssential, #FamilyIsNotTourism, or #LiftTheTravelBan. People have talked about the pain of being separated from families, friends, fiancés, adult children, the places they love and the services they need. Some explain that travel is a prerequisite for their livelihood, and that restrictions force them to choose between work and family. Others describe feeling isolated in the host countries as well as homesick.

Exceptions to some, forgotten for others

As the change in administration brought hope, it soon appeared that the Biden team would prioritize controlling the epidemic above everything else. Although Trump It has been terminated The travel ban was just before leaving the office Was returned Soon after by President Joe Biden, public health was invoked. To this day, the “14-day policy”, which prohibits entry to visitors who have been in the Schengen area within two weeks of the date of departure, remains in effect. To get around the policy, one can ask for the “National Interest Exception” (NIE), which is the Holy Grail bestowed by consular offices abroad and increasingly difficult to secure.

The new administration made the NIE process clear, while tightening it up. State Department updates at April And the May Identify potential NIE beneficiaries – immigrants, people with fiancé (fiancé) visas, students, journalists, and workers Critical infrastructure sectors, In addition to academics (“specific J visas”), and “Some exchange visitors. ”

No matter how long the list is, many legal visa holders remain excluded – including investors, temporary workers, and many exchange visitors (E, H, L, O, P, and other J visas). For most of them, traveling across the Atlantic is risky. If they choose to visit Europe, for personal or professional reasons, they may be denied the NIE to return to the United States, and gamble on their livelihoods in the process.

Moreover, most US consulates in Europe operate at reduced capacity, delaying appointments by months and threatening visa renewals and other procedures. Embassy of the United States in Paris Offers An honest and honest assessment of the situation: “Many applicants who were previously able to qualify for a National Interest Exemption may not be able to meet the new criteria … Those who are currently in the United States should not leave the United States for return trips to France unless they understand that they may They cannot enter the United States again for some time. ” As immigration attorneys explain to their frantic clients as they navigate opaque, it is best if they stay where they are.

Asymmetry and inflection

Although the travel restrictions European countries imposed on Americans were similarly harsh, an important disparity lay in the status of nonimmigrant visa holders. Holders of these U.S. visas (eg Residence cards In France) “residents” of most European countries, allowing them to travel back and forth between their home country (the United States) and their temporary home (in Europe). Conversely, non-immigrant European visa holders living in the United States are considered “non-residents” even though they may have stable employment, assets, or children in school. If these “non-residents” visited Europe, they might be denied the right to return to America.

This longstanding policy now creates an unfair situation between those subject to the embargo (nonimmigrant visa holders and tourists) and those exempt from it (green card holders, flight crew members, diplomats, and exceptions under the NIE status). This disparity is not only cruel; In fact, it does not prevent the virus from spreading. Indeed, as the situation continues, it is only pushing some to take risky, costly, and long detour paths. Europeans stuck in trouble over the 14-day policy end up spending two weeks in a non-Schengen third country – such as Croatia, Turkey, Morocco, Costa Rica, Colombia, or Northern Macedonia – on their way to the United States, increasing the risk of infection in the process. That is, if they could.

This turning option is not available for those waiting for their visa application to be processed. According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs NumbersThe number of nonimmigrant visas issued to the Schengen area and British citizens decreased in 2020 to a third of what it was in 2019, when it reached more than half a million. There are several reasons for this decline: pandemic concerns, but also travel restrictions and the suspension of routine visa services. Behind these numbers, tens of thousands of people are waiting to start their lives.

Welcome long term visitors

In the long run, the situation calls into question the premise of the travel ban itself. Several safe travel methods are currently being tested by European countries preparing to reopen their doors after the May 19 decision. France will Open For people who have been vaccinated, a special “health permit” will be placed. Italy welcomes US travelers without quarantine if they arrive in the country one day COVID-tested private flights.

The United States is also looking for innovative solutions to resume international travel. On May 18, representatives of the tourism industry Certificate Before the Senate Subcommittee on Tourism, Trade and Export Promotion, the Subcommittee on Tourism, Trade and Export Promotion called for the adoption of new safety protocols and official standards to speed up the reopening of its doors to foreign tourists. While the general rules for mass tourism are set, much more needs to be done to relax the rules for those who travel to live and contribute to America. Nonimmigrant European visa holders need to have the option to transfer back and forth, as can other legal permanent residents and US visa holders living in Europe, in order to restore a certain level of normalcy. The routine processing of visas must resume, sooner rather than later, to avoid the more inevitable backlog that summer will bring. Oblivion has lasted long enough.

Should the insurgent vaccination figures be mitigated: So far, 34.1% of the population is in the European Union and 48.2% in the United States You have received at least 1 dose COVID-19 Vaccine, the app is It is gaining speed in Europe. Before President Biden attends the EU, US, and NATO summits in Brussels in mid-June, the administration must urgently consider the impact of the long travel ban between the United States and its closest allies. If the United States really wants it Underscore With its “commitment to a strong transatlantic partnership based on shared interests and values,” the demonstration of concrete confidence ahead of the summit would be welcome.

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