For families in Europe, ending the US travel ban is a new beginning

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LONDON – For Katie Wait, the coronavirus pandemic has been more than a year and a half of uncertainty. It also meant months apart from his parents, brother and extended family in Florida.

Missed birthdays. Milestones celebrated separately. Time together wasted.

“It’s been the most difficult year mentally and emotionally, when you really want your family to be there,” said Ms Wait, suddenly overwhelmed by tears. “It was tough.”

So, on Monday, she was one of many across Europe and the world who rejoiced when the Biden administration announced an 18-month travel ban from 33 countries, including Great Britain. Brittany, member states of the European Union, Brazil, China, India, Iran and South Africa, would be lifted.

The travel ban hadn’t been a mere inconvenience, for Ms Wait and countless others: it crushed jobs and destroyed opportunities and put an irremovable wall between them and their families or partners.

The United States began implementing travel bans early in the pandemic in an attempt to stem the spread of the coronavirus. Bans spread to other countries as epidemics continued. But they have angered Britain and countries in the European Union, especially after those countries lifted quarantine rules earlier this summer and welcomed fully vaccinated travelers from the United States.

When the United States did not immediately reciprocate, officials were annoyed. (As the Delta variant spread over the summer, the European Union backed down and recommended member states again restrict travel from the United States.)

Over the months, thousands of people separated from their family members and partners have gathered online to share their experiences using the hashtag #LoveIsNotTourism to draw attention to their plight.

Ms Wait, who had to cancel a trip to reunite with her family in March last year and has not seen her parents since 2019, has found the support vital. She, her husband and 9-year-old daughter are British, but Ms. Wait’s parents and brother have lived in St. Augustine, Florida for 17 years and are US citizens.

“You didn’t expect that if they were going to live in America, you couldn’t reach them,” she said. “You never think that in a million years things like this will happen, that the border will be closed.”

Some people have found ways – often expensive or difficult – to get around the ban, by traveling to a third country to get around the rule.

When his ex-wife died in Italy last June, Francesco Sacca, 44, an Italian entrepreneur who lives in Florida, immediately returned to the country. But he and his children, who are 15 and 17, have been caught in the travel ban.

They managed to fly to Costa Rica, spend two weeks there and then enter America, but over the following months Mr Sacca had to travel to Italy several times for the paperwork related to the death. Each time, to return to America, he had to spend two weeks in Colombia or the United Arab Emirates or Qatar, for a total expense of 80,000 euros, or $ 93,000.

But what worried her the most was leaving her children alone in Florida. “Every morning, I think of my 15-year-old daughter who goes to the bus stop alone with her bike in the dark,” he said on the phone from Doha, the capital of Qatar. “All because of this travel ban.”

For most people, such an expensive workaround was not an option.

Searching for information on when the ban was lifted has become a daily ritual for some.

“It was very hard not to think about it,” Ms. Wait said. Now that the uncertainty is finally over, Ms Wait has booked flights to see her parents in November.

For Lucrezia Tassi, 24, it is not family but professional projects that have been put out of reach by the ban. Ms Tassi is an Italian from Caravaggio, a town near the northern city of Bergamo, where some of the deadliest moments in the early days of the pandemic unfolded.

She put her plans to become an au pair for a family in Seattle on hold for over a year because of the ban. She said the uncertainty has also kept her from moving on with her life.

“I couldn’t look for a little job or even book a concert seat because I didn’t know if in a month I would be there,” she said.

Alejandro Gaebelt, a Spanish sales manager who lives in Madrid, said the Biden administration’s decision to change travel rules was a positive change, but it came too late.

Mr Gaebelt’s sister lives in the United States and he had planned to travel with his wife and two children to visit her this summer, but the ban made their plans impossible.

“We lost what was going to be a great family trip,” he said.

Lucia Vidal lost her job after being stranded in Italy because of the travel ban. Ms Vidal, 33, an Italian who had worked as a nanny in Washington for seven years, was at home renewing her visa when the Trump administration announced the ban and was unable to return.

After being stranded in Italy for over a year, her employer fired her. She was unable to return to the United States, even to collect her things.

“It’s 10 years of living in America,” she said. “I have always paid taxes, my friends are there. Now that I have lost my job, I feel lost.

Elide Vincenti, 30, was unable to start a job in Miami as she was also back in Italy to get a visa when the ban was announced. She was barred from visiting her boyfriend in New York for over a year. Her friends in Miami moved her belongings to a storage unit, but because she didn’t retrieve them for months, they were ultimately thrown away.

“I have nothing left,” she said.

Megan Specia brought back from London and Emma Bubola From Rome. Raphael Minder contributed to reports from Madrid.


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