- Tatjana Heid is a professional journalist in Germany working at The Tennessean on a Arthur F. Burns fellowship from the International Center for Journalists.
To travel to the United States in these times of pandemic, I faced a real odyssey.
I am a journalist from Germany, working for two months in Nashville. To come here, I needed to apply for a journalist visa along with a National Interest Exception (NIE). A NIE is given to noncitizens whose entry would be in the U.S. national interest, for example to academics, students, humanitarian travelers, and journalists.
As a journalist, I have always been keen on going to the South of the United States. I have been to the big cities of the east and west coasts before, but they do not offer the complete picture.
It is the same as in Germany. You do not know the country if you have only been to Berlin. To understand a country, it is necessary to know its different parts.
Therefore, I wanted to visit the more conservative south of the United States. As I got the chance to do so funded by a fellowship, it was not a matter of choice to say no.
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The paperwork was onerous
I started the application process with a lot of paperwork. The U.S. Consulate General in Frankfurt would not process my application due to COVID-19, so I had to apply in Munich.
They gave me an appointment for September when I already would be heading back to Germany. I applied for an emergency appointment, which got approved after I had written two additional emails.
I drove from Frankfurt to Munich and got that visa as well as the required National Interest Exception (NIE). Lucky me. The woman in front of me burst into tears when her visa was declined.
But my NIE expired after four weeks, so I had to renew it, which took me another week and several emails. At the airport, with my plane already in sight, the employee from the airline did not accept the visa. He doubted me having a NIE. I had some very nerve-wracking minutes. Eventually, I was allowed to go through.
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To sum it up: The travel ban is remarkably complicated for everybody from the Schengen area — the passport-free zone of Europe —, as well as from the United Kingdom, Ireland, and other non-European countries making their way into the United States. And often the whole process leads to disappointment.
Nashville doesn’t seem to think COVID exists anymore
For couples with different passports this is terrible, forcing them into a long-distance relationship based on video calls. Families are worried they will not be able to meet their elder loved ones ever again before they pass away. And companies all over Europe complain about the travel ban stressing their business.
When I finally entered the United States, it was kind of a shock. In Washington the hotel required masks inside the building, but only for unvaccinated guests. The question is, how do you know if somebody is vaccinated?
In Nashville it seemed to me that the pandemic barely exists at all. While lining up in restaurants, only a few people wear masks. They sit crowded together, not giving any regard to keeping a 6-foot distance between each other. And everybody is shaking hands! I cannot remember the last time I shook somebody’s hand.
In Germany, we are supposed to wear medical masks inside if the room is open to the public. The same applies to public transportation and shops. Everybody is required to keep their distance from one another, at least 5 feet.
Depending on the case counts, customers need to show their vaccine status, a negative test result or proof of having recovered from COVID-19 to enter the restaurant. Huge open-air events are cancelled.
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Economic interests require a change to the rules
Having this in mind, the travel ban seems to me — from my European perspective — contradictory, disproportionately rigorous and counter-productive. It is supposed to protect the United States from the virus, but has deep impacts on the transatlantic relationship, as well as the economy on both sides.
“The U.S. government harms itself and others with the travel ban”, said Joachim Lang, the director General of the Federation of German Industries.
He pointed out that German companies jointly represent the third largest foreign employer within the United States, offering 860,000 jobs. The European Union stated, it will be in further contact with the U.S. in this matter. In the beginning of July, 24 American branch associations urged President Biden to lift the travel ban. They represented travel organizations, airports, and hotels among others.
Maybe it is not necessary to lift the travel ban completely, but to modify it. The United States could open itself for non-touristic travelers who are fully vaccinated. That would be the best way to protect the economy on both sides of the Atlantic as well as the United States from COVID-19 transmitted by travelers.
Last week’s news suggests, that the Biden administration is indeed planning to request all travelers to the United States to be vaccinated. This would be put in place after the current restrictions on travels have been lifted, one day in the future. From my perspective: the sooner the better!
Tatjana Heid is a professional journalist in Germany working at The Tennessean on a Arthur F. Burns fellowship from the International Center for Journalists. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Originally Appeared On: https://www.tennessean.com/story/opinion/columnists/2021/08/11/travel-ban-u-s-european-travelers-complicated-and-misguided/5519660001/