LONDON — Deborah Tudhope was growing anxious. An American lawyer living in London, she was hoping to fly back to the United States in two weeks to see her 96-year-old mother, who lives in a retirement home in Maine. But the Omicron-driven travel restrictions announced on Thursday by the White House have her worrying that the trip may not happen.
Ms. Tudhope, 72, has had to reschedule her required coronavirus test for the day before her flight, which the airline had already pushed back a day. With the rules seemingly shifting by the hour, she said she faced multiple hurdles: getting out of Britain, getting into the United States and visiting her mother in the home.
“I don’t know how this whole thing is going to work out,” said Ms. Tudhope, who described herself as disheartened, if not surprised, by the turmoil. “But I did make sure the flights are re-bookable.”
Such private dramas are playing out all over the world, as thousands of people — Americans living abroad and foreigners hoping to visit the United States — grapple with the new complexities of holiday travel in the age of Covid.
Biden administration shortened the time frame for international travelers to the United States to take a Covid test within a day before departure, regardless of vaccination status.
That has left would-be travelers nervously calculating whether they will get test results back in time to make their flights or worrying that their home countries could impose more stringent travel bans while they are away.
new pandemic strategy that includes hundreds of family-centered vaccination sites, booster shots for all adults, new testing requirements for international travelers and insurance reimbursement for at-home tests.
Shifting views on boosters among experts. For months, many public health experts have opposed plans to roll out Covid booster shots to all adults. But as Omicron gains ground, researchers are changing their minds, and now believe that the shots may offer the best defense against the new variant.
Officials in Italy said the country was well-prepared to handle a surge in tests for passengers bound for the United States. In the weeks since the government began requiring frequent, negative tests for all unvaccinated Italian workers, pharmacies have processed up to one million rapid tests a day.
“The prospect of more rapid swabs for travelers to the U.S. is not a problem for pharmacies here,” said Marco Cossolo, president of Italy’s largest association of private pharmacies, Federfarma.
South Korea built up the capacity to administer an average of 68,000 P.C.R. tests a day in November, according to Seung-ho Choi, the deputy director of risk communication at the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Center. Results almost always come within 24 hours, he said, though travelers catching early-morning flights when clinics are closed might have to seek out hospitals that administer tests.
Britain is among several countries that have recently required tests for incoming travelers within a day or two after arriving. Randox Laboratories, a British company that provides Covid tests for travel, said on Thursday that since the changes were announced for travelers entering Britain last weekend, it had ramped up P.C.R. testing capacity to its pandemic peak of 180,000 tests per day.
That would also help with processing tests for travelers to the United States, the company said.
For Europeans with ties to the United States, the new rules are merely the latest wild card in a life already lived perpetually in flux.
“What a nightmare — enough!” said Alice Volpi, 28, when told of the impending American restrictions.
An Italian who was living in New York at the outset of the pandemic, Ms. Volpi recounted how she could not return home to Italy for several months because of her country’s travel ban. When she finally got home, a travel ban imposed by the United States prevented her from returning to see her boyfriend in New York.
“The most frustrating part is that you can never make a plan more than one week in advance because everything can change every day,” said Ms. Volpi, who insisted she would press on with plans to visit her boyfriend at Christmas. “That doesn’t allow me to be serene.”
For some Americans living abroad who fear that borders may close again if Omicron proves to be a lethal threat, the solution is to move up their travel timelines. The testing requirements are stressful, they said, but not as much as the possibility that the Biden administration might eventually cut off travel pathways completely.
“That’s what I’m most worried about — not getting to see my family,” said Sarah Little, 25, who moved from New York to London in September to study. She had originally planned to fly home closer to Christmas, but is now trying to book a flight early next week.
“It would just be devastating if I couldn’t get home,” Ms. Little said.
Gaia Pianigiani and Emma Bubola contributed reporting from Rome; Saskia Solomon and Isabella Kwai from London; Aurelien Breeden from Paris; John Yoon from Seoul and Sheryl Gay Stolberg from Washington.
LONDON — As the still-mysterious Omicron variant reached American shores, the World Health Organization on Wednesday scolded wealthy countries that imposed travel bans and dismissed those that poured resources into vaccine booster campaigns when billions in poor countries had yet to receive their first shots.
The comments by W.H.O. officials reopened fraught questions of equity in how the world has handled the coronavirus pandemic since a stark divide over the availability of vaccines emerged between rich and poor countries earlier this year.
But amid fears of a new wave of Covid-19, that seemed unlikely to sway leaders in Europe, Asia, and the United States, which reported its first confirmed Omicron case, in California, on Wednesday. They are scrambling to shield their populations from the variant — about which much remains unknown — by topping up their protection and tightening restrictions on incoming travel.
Travelers reacted with confusion and dismay to news that the United States plans to toughen testing requirements and the screening of inbound passengers. That decision came after Japan, Israel, and Morocco barred foreign travelers and Australia delayed reopening its borders for two weeks.
revealed to the world — and Dr. Tedros warned that the number would rise.
The W.H.O. also voiced skepticism about ambitious booster plans that it claimed come at the expense of first-time vaccinations in less wealthy nations. Britain this week announced a massive new campaign to deliver booster shots to all adults by the end of January. Other European countries and the Biden administration are also pushing these shots as a first line of defense against the variant, buying time for scientists to unravel its genomic code.
Japan joined Israel and Morocco in barring all foreign travelers, and Australia delayed reopening its borders for two weeks. The C.D.C plans to increase testing and screening of international fliers to the U.S.
A patchwork of regulations. As the new Omicron variant spread around the world, two KLM flights from South Africa became emblematic of the scattershot and lax global approach to coronavirus containment. Of the more than 60 people who tested positive for the virus, at least 14 had Omicron.
A new type of treatment. An expert panel voted to recommend that the F.D.A. authorize a Covid pill from Merck for high-risk adults, the first in a new class of antiviral drugs that could work against a wide range of variants, including Omicron. The pill could be authorized within days, and available by year’s end.
Vaccine hesitancy in Africa. The detection of the Omicron variant in Africa signals the next stage of the battle against Covid-19: getting more people inoculated in poorer nations. But though vaccine supplies are becoming sufficient, the new hurdle is overcoming local skepticism or outright hostility.
The borderless nature of the virus, Mr. Guterres said, means that “travel restrictions that isolate any one country or region are not only deeply unfair and punitive — they are ineffective.”
Although the United States is not weighing the kind of blanket travel ban on foreign visitors imposed by Japan, the restrictions being weighed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the United States are stirring widespread concern. The agency is considering requiring travelers to provide a negative result from a test taken within 24 hours before departure, a spokesman said on Tuesday night.
Though the C.D.C. has yet to officially announce the changes, the prospect sent travelers searching for updates, booking pre-emptive tests where they could, and scouring airline websites for reservation changes, as the pandemic threatened to upend another December travel season.
Carlos Valencia, a dual Spanish-American citizen whose Seville-based company operates a study abroad program for American students, had planned to return to the United States in January. But he said that he would put the trip on hold until “there is at least some clarity about whether the new rules make a trip feasible.”
Whatever shape the restrictions take, he said, they are “way overdone — especially when you consider how lax the U.S.A. has been with getting people to wear face masks and its own health safety measures.”
Emanuela Giorgetti, a teacher in northern Italy, was hoping to join her fiancé, whom she has not seen for almost two years, for Christmas in Chicago. “When I heard the news,” she said, “I thought, ‘Here we go again.’”
Given the potential threat posed by Omicron, she said she understood the impulse to tighten the rules. But it still seemed unfair.
“We have more vaccinated people in Italy than in the U.S., we wear masks indoors and try to go by the rules,” Ms. Giorgetti said.
Reporting was contributed by Nick Cumming-Bruce, Rick Gladstone, Raphael Minder, Gaia Pianigiani, Michael D. Shear and John Yoon.
The world reacted with alarm on Friday to the highly mutated new coronavirus variant discovered in southern Africa, as the United States, the European Union and nations across the globe imposed new travel restrictions, financial markets swooned and visions of finally emerging from the pandemic started to dim.
Just two days after the world learned of the variant, the World Health Organization officially labeled it a “variant of concern,” its most serious category — the first since the Delta variant, which emerged a year ago. The designation means that the variant has mutations that might make it more contagious or more virulent, or make vaccines and other preventive measures less effective — though none of those effects has yet been established.
suffered terribly when Covid first hit Europe early last year.
On Friday, Israel, Singapore, several European nations individually, and then the European Union as a whole, the United States and Canada followed the lead set by Britain on Thursday night, temporarily barring foreign travelers who have recently been in South Africa or any of several neighboring countries. As with past travel bans, countries are allowing their own citizens and permanent residents to return home if they test negative for the virus, with some requiring additional testing and quarantine after arrival.
fights over vaccines and social restrictions have grown increasingly harsh.
world’s highest case rates for their populations are all European — several of them about six times as high as the U.S. rate.
South Africa, whose last coronavirus wave peaked in July, has recently reported case rates far below the worldwide average. But last week the rate more than doubled from the week before.
Reporting was contributed by Sheryl Gay Stolberg, Zolan Kanno-Youngs, Carl Zimmer, Lynsey Chutel and Nick Cumming-Bruce.
WASHINGTON — The State Department on Monday warned Americans against traveling to Japan as the country experiences an increase in coronavirus cases less than two months before the start of the Tokyo Olympics.
The move has little practical effect, as Japan’s borders have been closed to most nonresident foreigners since the early months of the pandemic. But the warning is another blow for the Olympics, which are facing stiff opposition among the Japanese public over concerns that they could become a superspreader event as athletes and their entourages pour in from around the world.
The Japanese authorities have insisted that they can carry off the Olympics safely. They have made clear that they intend to proceed with the Games regardless of public discontent and a state of emergency currently in place in much of the country.
Likewise, Japanese officials told the local news media that they viewed the American warning as separate from any considerations for the Games. The State Department declaration is unlikely to affect the United States’ decision to send its athletes to the Olympics. Presumably, most if not all have been vaccinated, although the Games’ organizers are not requiring participants to be inoculated.
Osaka, part of Japan’s second-largest metropolitan area, is struggling to deal with the surge, which has put pressure on its health care system.
20,000 people in Japan connected to the event. In addition, the Japanese organizers of the Games have barred international spectators from attending.
But those moves have not allayed public concerns. About 80 percent of the Japanese public believes that the Olympics, which were delayed by a year because of the pandemic, should be canceled or postponed again, polls show. The approval rating for Japan’s prime minister, Yoshihide Suga, has fallen to the low 30s over his handling of the virus, according to a recent poll by Jiji Press.
Hundreds of thousands of people have signed a petition calling for the Games to be canceled, and protesters have taken to the streets to denounce the event as a threat to public health. In a poll conducted last week, nearly 70 percent of companies said that the Olympics should be stopped or delayed.
Germany is banning most travel from Britain starting on Sunday amid concerns about the spread of a coronavirus variant first discovered in India, the German authorities said on Friday.
German citizens and residents of Germany will still be allowed to enter the country from Britain but will be required to self-isolate for two weeks upon arrival, Germany’s public health institution said as it classified Britain as an area of concern because of the variant.
The move came just days after Britain reopened its museums and cinemas and resumed allowing indoor service in pubs and restaurants. Many people in Britain have been looking forward to traveling abroad in the coming months, and Spain is set to welcome visitors arriving from Britain without a coronavirus test starting on Monday.
serve as an early warning for other European countries that have relaxed restrictions. This month, the World Health Organization declared the mutation a “variant of concern,” and although scientists’ knowledge about it remains limited, it is believed to be more transmissible than the virus’s initial form.
dozen or so other countries that Germany considers areas of concern because of variants. As of Thursday, Britain had 3,424 cases of the variant first discovered in India, according to government data, up from 1,313 cases the previous week.
Dozens of nations, including European countries and the United States, suspended travel from Britain or imposed strict restrictions earlier in the pandemic amid concerns about the spread of a variant first detected in England.
Britain’s Office for National Statistics said on Friday that the percentage of people testing positive for the coronavirus in England had showed “early signs of a potential increase” in the week ending May 15, although it said rates remained low compared with earlier this year. At its peak in late December, Britain recorded more than active 81,000 cases, compared with about 2,000 this month.
The country’s inoculation campaign is continuing apace, with an increased focus on second doses in an effort to thwart the sort of spikes that led to restrictions imposed earlier this year.
said on Saturday that people over 32 could now book an appointment.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has vowed to proceed with a plan to lift all restrictions by June 21, although scientists have warned that the spread of the B.1.617 variant could delay such plans. Most cases of the variant have been found in northwestern England, with some in London.
In Germany, the restrictions on travel from Britain come as outdoor service resumed on Friday in cafes, restaurants and beer gardens after months of closure. Chancellor Angela Merkel urged people to “treat these opportunities very responsibly.”
In early April, Payal Raj accompanied her family to India to renew the visas that permit them to live in the United States. She and her husband waited until they had been vaccinated, carefully preparing their paperwork according to the advice of their immigration lawyers. But the visa itself would soon strand her in India indefinitely, separating her from her husband and daughter in Hendersonville, Tenn.
“Our family is in a crisis,” said Ms. Raj, who is one of thousands of immigrants stuck in India, in part because the Biden administration’s restrictions on most travel from the country mean that temporary visa holders are explicitly barred from re-entering the United States. “Every morning is a struggle.”
The restrictions, issued as a devastating surge in coronavirus cases has overwhelmed India in recent weeks, prohibit Ms. Raj and others like her from returning to their homes, families and jobs in the United States. Even those exempt under the ban are in limbo as the outbreak forces the U.S. Embassy and consulates to close, leaving many with no clear path home.
Ms. Raj’s husband, Yogesh Kumar, an operations manager for a multinational corporation, lives in the United States on an H-1B visa, or a temporary permit for highly technical foreign workers. As dependents, Ms. Raj and their daughter hold H-4 visas, which allow temporary workers to bring immediate family and must be renewed about every three years at an embassy or consulate outside the United States.
American citizens and permanent residents, for instance, can travel freely, while people who are fully vaccinated, test negative or quarantine before and after flying cannot. The administration has not indicated when or under what circumstances it would lift the restrictions.
“They just put the same blanket ban for India that they were using in the Trump administration,” said Greg Siskind, an immigration lawyer who is suing the Biden administration over the State Department’s inability to issue visas in countries experiencing lockdowns. “This was the same style ban that President Biden said last March was ineffective and was a bad idea.”
The United States has restricted entry from a number of countries, but the most recent ban has had a disproportionate effect on Indians in the United States given that Indian citizens claim more than two-thirds of H-1B visas issued each year. Including those on other kinds of nonimmigrant visas, immigration lawyers estimate that thousands of Indians living in the United States have been affected.
Some traveled to India when coronavirus case counts were low to renew their visas or see family. Others went to care for sick or dying relatives. Now some are unable to secure even emergency appointments to renew their visas at the embassy in New Delhi or any of the four U.S. consulates in India.
In late April, Gaurav Chauhan traveled to Agra to care for his father, who was hospitalized with the coronavirus. He is now separated from his wife and two children, who live in Atlanta.
As a parent of American citizens who are minors, Mr. Chauhan is exempt from the ban, but he has been unable to make an emergency appointment on the State Department’s website to renew his visa. His employer, a software company, has temporarily allowed Mr. Chauhan, who works in human resources, to do his job overseas. But others in similar situations say they have been asked to leave their jobs.
analysis of State Department data by the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank.
Such shutdowns should not stop visa processing, Mr. Siskind said, pointing to other immigration agencies that had successfully adapted to remote work and exceptions to in-person document submission.
“One of the issues with the State Department for the last 14 months is their lack of imagination in terms of how to change their procedures in a pandemic,” Mr. Siskind said. “They have, for example, not switched to video interviewing, which is something that they have the statutory authority to do.”
The State Departmentacknowledged that “services are limited” at U.S. outposts in India but said that it would “make every attempt to continue to honor approved emergency visa appointments.” The department could not provide a specific date for when other visa services would resume.
Abhiram, a professor in Broward County, Fla., whose wife and 3-year-old daughter remain outside Hyderabad after visiting family in January, said he did not fault the government for enforcing travel restrictions to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. But the situation has made him consider whether to stay in the United States.
“Every day my daughter asks me, ‘Daddy, where are you?’” said Abhiram, who asked to be identified only by his middle name. “I do feel sometimes like going back to my home country, rather than dealing with this.”
But for Ms. Raj and her family, home is Hendersonville.
“Our whole day-to-day life was interacting with our neighbors, going and visiting friends, getting together for backyard parties. It’s been wonderful,” she said. “I don’t want to uproot our lives.”
Days after ending its divisive ban on allowing citizens to return from India, Australia carried out its first repatriation flight from that country, with the plane departing from New Delhi and arriving in Darwin, in Australia’s Northern Territory, on Saturday.
The flight had been scheduled to carry 150 passengers, but just 80 people were on it, after 70 people were barred from travel because they or their close contacts had tested positive for Covid-19, according to the Australian government. The new arrivals in Australia now face two weeks of quarantine in a converted mining camp outside Darwin.
Because of Australia’s rigorous preflight testing, in which passengers must show two negative tests for Covid-19, the seats could not be given to other passengers. At least 9,500 Australians in India have registered as wanting to return home. Around 1,000 of those people are classified as “vulnerable” for health or financial reasons.
When the numbers of new cases of the coronavirus began a perilous ascent in India last month, Australia followed in the footsteps of New Zealand and imposed a temporary ban on travel from India. Those who defied the ban faced the threat of jail time or large fines. The policy was heavily criticized and labeled a breach of human rights by lawmakers, advocacy groups and those in the Indian diaspora.
the most recent government guidance. Many Australian citizens are still stranded abroad, unable to secure spots in isolation facilities or afford flights home that may run into the tens of thousands of dollars for a one-way ticket. The measures have all but eliminated community transmission of the virus.
India, by contrast, is experiencing one of the world’s most dangerous outbreaks, with hospitals unable to accommodate the thousands of people who require urgent medical attention. Crematories in the country, which has so far reported 24 million cases and more than 250,000 deaths, are overloaded, while dozens of bodies have washed up on the banks of the Ganges River.
In a televised briefing over the weekend, Australia’s treasurer, Josh Frydenberg, said that the government’s priority was to protect Australians within their own country. “We’re following the medical advice,” he said, adding, “We’ve got to maintain our health settings because we know how damaging to the lives and livelihoods of Australians an outbreak here would be.”
Further repatriation flights are scheduled for later this month, with about 1,000 people planning to return by the end of June.
KATHMANDU, Nepal — Most of Nepal is under lockdown, its hospitals overwhelmed. Bangladesh suspended vaccination sign-ups after promised supplies were cut off. Sri Lanka’s hopes of a tourism-led economic revival have collapsed.
As India battles a horrific surge of the coronavirus, the effects have spilled over to its neighbors. Most nearby countries have sealed their borders. Several that had been counting on Indian-made vaccines are pleading with China and Russia instead.
The question is whether that will be enough, in a region that shares many of the risk factors that made India so vulnerable: densely populated cities, heavy air pollution, fragile health care systems and large populations of poor workers who must weigh the threat of the virus against the possibility of starvation.
Though the countries’ outbreaks can’t all be linked to India, officials across the region have expressed growing dread over how easily their fates could follow that of their neighbor.
huge, maskless rallies in India hosted by Prime Minister Narendra Modi even as infections rose. Likewise, both the ruling and opposition parties in Nepal held large political gatherings after the prime minister dissolved Parliament in December.
told CNN on Saturday that Nepal’s situation was “under control” but acknowledged that “political instability” had led to “some mistakes.” On Monday night, Mr. Oli lost a vote of no confidence in Parliament, throwing Nepal into further turmoil.
Aid workers have warned that the parallels between Nepal and India may continue, as hospitals turn all but the most critically ill patients away. With medical oxygen supplies running short, as they did in India, Nepal’s government has imposed quotas for each hospital, which doctors say are far from adequate. Reports of patients dying from insufficient oxygen have spread.
said in a statement last week.
Vaccines are unlikely to help immediately. Nepal paid for two million doses from India’s Serum Institute, the world’s largest producer of vaccines. But as India’s crisis has escalated, its government has essentially halted exports, leaving Nepal a million doses short.
India’s pause has also scrambled vaccination plans in Bangladesh. Late last month, the authorities there announced that they would temporarily stop accepting new registrations for shots after supplies from the Serum Institute were cut off.
95 percent of its eligible population. Bhutan last month suspended entry for foreign workers, after experts cited concerns about laborers coming from India.
The border between Pakistan and India was closed even before the pandemic because of political tensions. But in Pakistan, too, cases are rising. Asad Umar, the official leading its coronavirus response, cited the fact that “the entire region is exploding with cases and deaths” to explain new lockdowns.
coronavirus response plan last May, it estimated that local facilities would be insufficient if there were more than 5,000 active cases at once. Now there are more than 100,000.
For many Nepalis, anger and sorrow have mixed with utter helplessness.
Pramod Pathak, a businessman in the border district of Kailali, has watched in anxiety and sorrow as migrant workers returned from India. They have crowded every day into overwhelmed testing centers, or — for the many for whom there are no tests — simply crammed into shared cars and returned to their villages.
“The virus is transmitting as they travel in jam-packed vehicles,” Mr. Pathak said. “There’s no safety for them no matter where they go — be it India or Nepal.”
Bhadra Sharma reported from Kathmandu, Nepal; Aanya Wipulasena from Colombo, Sri Lanka; and Vivian Wang from Hong Kong. Julfikar Ali Manik contributed reporting from Dhaka, Bangladesh, and Chencho Dema from Thimphu, Bhutan.
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I’ve spent the past 24 hours jumping at phone alerts and periodically Googling “NSW covid” and “Victoria border restrictions.”
I’m in Sydney for the week and was planning to stay until Sunday. But after the discovery of a mystery coronavirus case in the community, I’m trying to work out whether I need to head back to Melbourne sooner to get ahead of a possible border closure.
It’s not a life-or-death decision, but I’m loath to give up the weekend I was supposed to spend with my parents (the guilt trip I’ll get for missing Mother’s Day will be subtle but significant). However, I’ve got work commitments in Melbourne next week that I can’t miss.
There are no clear metrics for when and how states decide to enforce border restrictions. As the authorities keep stressing, every outbreak is assessed on a case-by-case basis.
I do the calculations in my head: New South Wales recorded no new infections on Friday. Queensland and Western Australia have only enacted border measures for New South Wales travelers who’ve visited hot spots. All of the mystery case’s close contacts have tested negative, sans one.
But on the other hand, the list of exposure sites keeps growing. We still haven’t found the missing link between the infected man and the originating case in hotel quarantine. New Zealand has paused the trans-Tasman bubble with New South Wales for 48 hours.
If there’s an announcement, will I have enough time to book a flight? Will there still be flights left to book?
It adds up to a whole lot of uncertainty. And following closely on its heels, annoyance.
This is a regular occurrence by now. The coronavirus escapes hotel quarantine, the state locks down or puts restrictions in place, and other states enforce border restrictions. Travelers scramble, and businesses bemoan the hit to their profits.
There are some differences this time. Unlike the Perth outbreak two weeks ago, most states haven’t enacted hard border closures with New South Wales. But for the most part, it feels like we’re having the same conversations again and again without gaining much ground. How do we stop coronavirus from leaking out of hotel quarantine? Is the virus airborne? Do we need purpose-built facilities? Are state borders closures an overreaction?
These outbreaks should be getting less significant as more Australians get vaccinated. But that is also a slow and ungainly process, according to experts, in part because we’ve gotten complacent. We’ve dealt so well with the virus that there’s no urgency about inoculating the population.
Some people I’ve spoken to who became eligible for the vaccine this week as part of phase 2A have expressed exactly that sentiment: We might as well wait a bit longer, just in case. It won’t make a big difference to us, here, either way.
Some days, it feels like the pandemic, at least in Australia, is a thing of the past. In Melbourne, I’d noticed more and more people forgoing their mandated masks on public transport. Even I’ve been getting slack about checking in at venues. But the past few days have been another reminder that things we used to take for granted, like free movement between states, still aren’t guaranteed.
Yona Shemesh, 24, was born in Los Angeles, but he moved to Israel with his family at age 9. In July 2020, as the Covid-19 pandemic was raging, he booked a ticket to Los Angeles to visit his grandparents in June 2021, knowing that he would have nearly an entire year to renew his American passport, which had long since expired.
Eight months later, he was still trying to get an appointment at the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem to do just that.
About 9 million U.S. citizens currently live abroad, and as the light at the end of the pandemic tunnel finally appears, immigration lawyers estimate more than 100,000 can’t get travel documents to return to the United States.
Despite the State Department making headway on a massive backlog of passport applications in the early months of the pandemic, many consulates and embassies abroad, plagued by Covid-19 restrictions and staffing reductions, remain closed for all but emergency services. Travel is restarting, but for American expats who had a baby abroad in the past year or saw their passport expire during the pandemic, elusive appointments for documents are keeping them grounded.
The Jerusalem Post. American Citizens Abroad, an advocacy organization for U.S. expats, sent an official request to the State Department in October 2020 to prioritize Americans’ access to consular services abroad, “but people are still experiencing delays,” said the organization’s executive director, Marylouise Serrato.
In Mexico, which is believed to have more American expats than any other country, a recent search on the appointment database for the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City showed zero available appointments for passport services, even with emergency circumstances (appointments from July onward have not yet been released).
ItsEasy Passport & Visa, a passport-and-visa-expediting service, said that many of them are so small that they’re nearly impossible to track.
“Since there is an online appointment system, anybody can log on, stockpile these appointments and resell them,” he said. “In the United States, they can be sold for $200 or $250, but out of the country they can charge much more.”
Mr. Shemesh got the broker’s phone number and transferred the money, and in one day, he had a confirmed appointment.
“I tried for eight months to get an appointment, and it was really a bummer because my money is something I have to work hard for. I paid more to renew my passport than I did on the ticket to Los Angeles. It felt like blackmail.”
Desperate Americans in other countries have considered paying for other services, as well.
Conner Gorry, 51, an American journalist who lives in Cuba, spent several frantic weeks trying to renew her expiring passport earlier this year. The U.S. Embassy in Havana is closed for all but emergency services. For six weeks, she tried to book an appointment, and received no response. Ms. Gorry grew so stressed that she developed gastritis, and at one point, she contemplated spending more than $13,000 to charter a plane from Havana to Miami, where she knew she would be able to renew her passport by mail.
She eventually found a flight out of Havana, and flew to the U.S. with one week left on her passport. She is unsure of when she will return to Cuba. The situation, she said, made her furious.
“The Covid thing is one thing. But the U.S. has citizens all over the world, and a diplomatic corps all over the world. What are they doing to protect and attend to us?”
Documents for American citizens within the United States are also getting stuck in the backlog. When Dayna and Brian Lee, who are Tony Award-winning producers of “Angels in America,” had twin baby girls in early April, the bureaucratic headaches started before they even brought their newborn daughters from the hospital to their home in New York City, where they have lived for several years.
The couple is originally from Toronto and their daughters, Emmy and Ella, are eligible for dual U.S. and Canadian citizenship but are currently without passports from either country. The infants must have American passports first so their parents can travel with them to Canada, where the girls will be able to also receive their Canadian passports. But for weeks after the girls were born, Mr. and Mrs. Lee were unable to book appointments at any U.S. passport office within a three-hour drive of New York City. They ended up turning to an immigration lawyer for help.
“It’s so inexplicably stressful, mixed up with the overwhelming joy of having these two beautiful lives in front of you,” Mr. Lee said. “But we’ve made the decision that come hell or high water, we will be with our families this summer.”
Elizabeth Goss, an immigration attorney based in Boston, said she expects delays and scheduling headaches for both visas and U.S. passports to last another year.
“It’s like a cruise ship that needs to readjust,” she said. “It’s not a speedboat.”