Robin Berjon

Without Borders

We Can Open This

Big white 'WE CAN DO THIS' text from a Biden campaign.

The world of immigration is not short on illogical rules and there are many situations far worse than that of non-immigrant visa holders in the US. But this situation is getting close to no coverage and it could use some light. Yesterday, The New York Times published an opinion piece asking Canada to open its border but made no mention of the United States doing the same.

The Biden administration has been running a We Can Do This campaign to drive vaccination, arguing that vaccines can help us "press play" on lives put on pause by the pandemic. For non-immigrant visa holders, however, life remains on pause whether vaccinated or not. We cannot leave the country because, if we do, we don't know when we will be allowed back in. U.S. Consulates the world around are operating at reduced capacity, and for the most part renewing one's visa is near impossible.

This is not about tourism. I know couples who have been separated or people who haven't been able to meet their grandchildren for over a year. Families who found themselves stuck and had to give up their jobs, find a new home and new schools, and get their belongings shipped in a crash landing. Many have not seen their family in two years and the strain is driving some to give up on their lives here. Some couldn't make it over to see relatives about to pass, or rushed to do so and cannot return.

As Célia Belin explains over at Brookings, the U.S.'s travel ban is often unilateral. This isn't affecting a niche group nor does it have no impact on the U.S. economy at a time when increasing capacity is crucial: the U.S. issues millions of non-immigrant visas every year, even excluding temporary visitors. I know I'm having to consider the possibility that I may need to head back to Europe and find a new job by September, which neither I nor (to the best of my knowledge) my employer is excited about. At scale, the attrition in qualified workers alone could prove disruptive to the economy, not to mention the people.

It's hard to understand what the purpose of this ban is, at the very least for the vaccinated population. If it is indeed time to unpause our lives, it might be time, too, to walk the vax talk and unban.