As many vaccinated Americans make plans to visit Europe this summer following a full year of, many Europeans who live and work in the United States can't go home — if they do, they won't be allowed back into the U.S.
Yacha Toueg, who holds an H-1B visa, which is for temporary workers with special skills, hasn't seen his family in France in nearly two years, thanks to coronavirus-related travel restrictions established more than a year ago. The product manager for a Los Angeles-based tech company might not be able to go home to see his brother get married this summer. He says the situation is "becoming increasingly difficult."
"I've already missed many important life moments because of travel restrictions. But traveling to Europe means having no guarantee of coming back any time soon. I would be putting my career at risk," he said. "Iffor a vacation, I hope that vaccinated U.S. visa holders can travel home soon without having to be stuck outside the U.S. for an undetermined amount of time."
Since March 2020, the U.S. has barred most visitors from the Schengen area, a group of 26 countries in Europe, from entering the country. While American citizens and green card holders are exempt from the travel ban, many U.S. visa holders are not. This means non-immigrant visa holders who travel home to Europe wouldn't be allowed back into the U.S. to resume their work and their lives — which in many cases, could mean losing their jobs.
The U.S. also restricted travel from the United Kingdom, Ireland, Brazil, China, Iran, South Africa and India. Some restrictions have been in effect for more than a year.
Dimitri, who asked that his last name not be included and is a French citizen who works in Miami on an H-1B visa, says it's "frustrating" that rules are being loosened for vaccinated American tourists to visit Europe while many vaccinated U.S.-based Europeans haven't been able to go back to their home countries and reunite with their families since the ban was put in place.
"The E.U. reopening borders to non-essential travel is a positive step forward. Nevertheless, the fact that thousands of Europeans living in the U.S. legally might still have to wait to do the same seems pretty inconsistent," he said.
As Europe starts to relax travel restrictions, the Biden administration has not publicly indicated a timeline for lifting restrictions and it's not clear where a reopening plan fits into the administration's agenda.
"We have no changes to announce at this time," a State Department spokesperson said in a statement to CBS News. "We look forward to the resumption of transatlantic travel as soon as our medical and public health professionals advise."
A foreign national who owns a retail store in South Florida said her father is "extremely sick" and living in a retirement home in Germany. She has an E-2 visa, which allows individuals to work inside the U.S. based on an investment in an American business, and said she's being forced to make one of the most difficult decisions of her life.
"It's very hard for me to make the decision to go and be with him because I simply wouldn't be allowed back into the United States due to the travel ban if I did," she said. "I can't just leave my kids alone here, my employees, without knowing when I'd be able to return. I can't put my business at risk and lose everything I've built all these years by being stuck abroad. It's heartbreaking."
In January, President Donald Trump announced a plan to end the ban, saying it was unnecessary because beginning January 26, international travelers started providing proof of a negative coronavirus test before boarding U.S.-bound flights. But within days of taking office, the Biden administration reinstated the ban.
Jean Girard, a French entrepreneur based in Miami, said the travel restrictions are particularly unfair to foreign nationals who are living in the U.S., calling the situation "unacceptable" and "shameful."
"Foreign nationals work, pay taxes, contribute to the economy. We're not citizens, but we're not tourists either, and yet, we suffer the same restrictions as tourists," he said. "Our whole life is here, so we should have a right to come back home. It's like we're being taken hostage."