For many Brits and Europeans with ties to America, human relationships have been put on hold for an insufferably long time during the Covid-19 crisis. Today, at last, that changed.
White House advisor Jeffrey Zients announced that anyone fully vaccinated from anywhere in the world will be able to enter the U.S. with a negative test result from November. To say this was a comfort to millions who felt trapped in or outside of the US seems to trivialise the consequences. Look at the Twitter hashtag #LoveIsNotTourism to see the real-world effects of enforced separation.
Upon hearing the possibility of the ban’s lifting, I booked a UK trip for November, almost two years since my last visit. I will now be in Kent as my sister gives birth to her second child and my first nephew, while spending time with my 2-and-a-half year old niece. When I last saw her, she was nine months old.
The Biden administration's crude bans on non-Americans entering the country from Britain and the EU were senselessly and stubbornly maintained. Even as domestic restrictions eased and vaccines were rolled out, travel measures first introduced in spring 2020 were kept rigidly in place.
As each month passed — 16, 17, 18 months — the pain of distance from loved ones gave way to anger and despair.
Sure, anyone — vaccinated or otherwise — could fly in from Mexico, Malaysia, or other non-blacklisted countries. Americans? They could come and go as they please. But a desire to look tough on COVID, coupled with bureaucratic inertia, meant the bans on non-American visitors or returning foreign workers from Europe just rumbled on and on. The ruling Democratic Party showed little domestic interest in their removal.
Over time, for people like me, this was spirit-crushing. Those of us on most nonimmigrant American work visas couldn’t visit home without spending two weeks in some non-banned country before returning to the US. Long-distance couples remained separated. Those flying back to bury or care for loved ones had to enter the lottery of exemption appeals. Grandparents missed the early years of their grandkids. Businessmen with staff and investments in America couldn’t hold face-to-face meetings with employees who’d steered their company through the pandemic.
The lack of that option to just fly back home, knowing you could return to your US job and fiancée afterwards, eats away at you slowly. Questions seep into your thoughts: What if something happens to a grandparent or parent? Will I see my UK wedding venue before getting married there next summer? Hell, will I actually make my own wedding if this ban endures? Last week, I even considered: how long would this discrimination against me as a foreign US taxpayer have to continue before I concluded that the US isn’t somewhere I want to live and bring up a family?
In recent weeks, a group of us, including journalists and activists running the Stop The Travel Ban campaign, have ramped up the pressure on the Biden administration through articles and advocacy. Did our efforts influence the decision? We’ll probably never be told if we played a role, or if the Aukus deal and fallout in Europe tipped the balance.
All I know is that among those who’ve shared their heartbreaking stories with me, the end of these bans will bring tears of relief. And while those of us affected will not forget the period of cruel indifference and hypocrisy from Biden’s administration over this, hearing the excitement in my mother’s voice about reuniting is a moment I’ll cherish forever.