How the global health crisis separated expat couples and families

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Published 2020-08-17 09:00

The impact of the global health crisis on couples and families cannot be ignored. Today, thousands of expats are still stranded abroad and desperately waiting for border restrictions to be lifted so that they can reunite with their loved ones. Love Is Not Tourism is a group that was set up to support couples and families that have been separated since the past few months by advocating reunification with governments of different countries. Let's have a look at what's happening around the world.

A long and painful wait

Daniel is a French expat who is stranded in Jeddah since March. He is a an IT and finance professional who was transfered to Saudi Arabia. “I am currently in the final stages of divorce, and, with my ex-partner, we have joint custody of our children. So I usually went back to France once a month to see the children ”. As border remain closed until further notice, he is desperate to see his children who left just before the restrictions were announced. “Other French expats have either left or remain in their compound, so the lockdown wasn't an easy thing", he says. Moreover, the French consulate in Jeddah is closed and is not responding to any emails, according to him. They could have, at least, responded to emails and redirect French expats who are stuck in Jeddah, ”he sighs. Marie is a young French mom who has been separated from her partner. “My daughter has been deprived of her dad since her birth. The government made a lot of announcements, but I haven't got any response yet. I've had enough of struggling", she says.

Johanna, a French expat in Morocco, hasn't lost her hope. “I haven't seen my partner since December 2019. Due to the global health crisis, we could not reunite in April as planned”. Johanna is holding on with great difficulty. "Eight months have gone by and we are still waiting for the Moroccan border restrictions to be lifted." In Madagascar, François, a French expat, is relying mainly on the internet during the day when there is no power cut. “We are waiting to reunite, with my partner, even though we know it's not going to be anytime soon. Things are getting more and more complicated. Could we part ways in the future? I hope not, because we're both holding on".

Like them, thousands of couples around the world are looking for help and expressing themselves on social media and forums like Graeme, an expat in Mauritius, is wondering when the border restrictions will be lifted so that his wife Stanika can come back. " I don't understand why I'm not allowed to come back since we are both holders of a resident visa", says Stanika.

A few stranded expats did manage to go back home, though. Philippe, is a Belgian expat who was on a professional in Ghana since mid-January. “I am one of the people who send missions abroad for their employer. Normally every ten weeks I come home to spend two weeks. This is when I am in a region or on a project that does not allow me to bring my family.”, he says. He did not want to take any risks by bringing his wife and children to Ghana during the crisis, so he spent the past few months on his own, praying that nothing will happen to them. But he agrees that travel restrictions are hard to bear psychologically. Back in Belgium, he has been quarantined for two weeks.

Where couples are reuniting... under certain conditions

Today, several countries, mainly in Europe, have lifted their border restrictions and are now allowing couples to reunite. These include Denmark, Norway, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Iceland, Austria, Finland, etc. In Austria, for example, "couple" also refers to two people who have a fixed relationship, regardless of the duration of the relationship and whether or not they live together. In Finland, even long-distance relationships count, which has enabled many couples to reunite since August 10, 2020. In Switzerland, however, stranded expats are only allowed to return as long as they can prove their relationship with their spouse or partner who is currently in Switzerland. Also, they are quarantined on their arrival.

In the Czech Republic, also, couples must provide a declaration confirming their long-term relationship, and prove that they share certain obligations just like married couples. This includes a joint bank account, a joint rental agreement, or their children's birth certificate. However, this only applies to expats who are exempt from the visa requirement to travel to the Czech Republic. Hence, many other expats who are not valid-visa holders are still stranded abroad.

Since August 10, 2020, in Germany, only persons who are in a long-term relationship that can be proved are allowed to return, even if they are not married, are allowed to return. This is possible when the partner who is currently in Germany sends an invitation to the one who is stranded abroad. Their identity documents, a formal declaration of their relationship and other documents proving their previous meetings in Germany or abroad, including visas and travel documents, photos in which they can be seen together, social media posts or even letters and emails, etc., must also be sent along.

In Sweden, only couples who intend to marry or enter in a common-law/cohabitation partnership are allowed to reunite with their partner as long as that they can prove that their relationship is a serious one. Given all these limitations, it's likely that many expats will remain stranded abroad, and have to wait for all border restrictions around the world to be lifted become they can fly back home.

1 Comment
last month

I was supposed to go home in March and Im still locked down in Malaysia. As the article mentioned, one of the worst pains is that the authorities dont take emails or phone calls and say nothing about whats going to happen. When they make changes, its always abrupt with no warnings. Airports continue to be closed and if I could leave I wouldnt be able to come back. The govt doesnt seem to care about the plight of expats, couples or separated families at all and offers no help, info or guidance. I have a visa and those with expired vised are allowed to remain on a week by week basis. As it is, I cant get back to my family and Im angry, disgusted and frustrated.