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‘Love is not Tourism’: Couples separated by pandemic travel bans are fighting to be reunited

Restrictions have put oceans between couples and families.


(Illustration by María Alconada-Brooks/The Washington Post)

When Corsi Crumpler, a U.S. citizen from Texas, got pregnant last year, she never thought she would be delivering the baby without her fiance Seán Donovan at her side. But because of the U.S. and E.U. travel ban due to the pandemic, he had to remain in his home country of Ireland, forced to witness the birth of their first child by FaceTime in July.


Corsi Crumpler and Sean Donovan facetiming in July 2020. (Family Photo)

Crumpler and Donovan met in Dublin while she was on vacation and have been together since 2019. Before the travel ban, they never went more than six weeks without seeing each other, going back and forth between Ireland and the United States.

“Instead of our baby’s birth being one of the most beautiful experiences of our lives, the travel ban has robbed us of something we will never get back,” Crumpler said.

Their story is not unique.

Since March 14, most foreign travelers from Europe have been banned from entering the United States, and bans remain in place for countries in Africa, Asia and South America. On March 17, the European Union closed its external borders, restricting nonessential travel. The upheaval has left binational couples and families feeling hopeless and wondering when they will be able to reunite with their loved ones.

But many have found support in online Facebook groups such as “Love is Not Tourism” and “Couples Separated by Travel Bans,” which are petitioning governments to allow the reunification of binational couples and families, including short-term visits.

“The narrow definition of family provided in almost all countries’ travel exemptions has left thousands of unmarried binational couples and families without the ability to reunite and without any end in sight as to when they will be reunited,” said Maggie Foster, who launched “Couples Separated by Travel Bans.”

“Many of the couples in our group have been together for years, and some even have children or are expecting a child. However, by the specific wording of most travel exemptions, unmarried couples and families are given no rights to reunite, as laws require a marriage certificate in order to enter the country.”

Foster is in a relationship with Alexandre Portier, a French nuclear physics doctoral student in Grenoble, whom she met at a family gathering in France. They had plans to visit each other every two to three months, but now they are just communicating by FaceTime several hours a day.

“The time that we were going to spend together this summer became me sitting alone in my apartment eating Nutella, checking travel ban updates and missing him,” Foster said.

William Mondello of France and his American girlfriend, Tara Gabaldon, met through their work in the travel industry and have been together since 2018. Before the travel ban, they flew back and forth to see each other every four to six weeks. They have not been together since March 15, when Mondello left D.C. and headed back to Paris.


William Mondello and Tara Gabaldon at the Louisiana State Capitol in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. (Family Photo)

“When the White House announced the travel ban, there were also rumors that France would begin a lockdown,” Mondello said. “Everything was upside down and scary. I left the U.S. not knowing when I would see Tara again, and it was devastating.”

With their plans suddenly upended, many of those separated find themselves in challenging situations. Heather Dombrosky, an American nurse educator, had planned to move to Germany to be with her boyfriend. Instead, she is now living with her parents in Miami-Dade County in Florida.

“My lease had ended in New York, I was set to move to Cologne, and then this happened,” she said. “We’re trying to find all sorts of ways to make it happen. As a nurse, maybe I can be deemed “essential.” It’s a daily struggle on top of feeling like a regressed teenager.”

Although the European Union began allowing international arrivals from more than a dozen non-E.U. countries on July 1, the United States has remain banned.

Still, some remain hopeful.


Elise Wyatt and Mark Joergensen in Copenhagen, Denmark in July 2020. (Family Photo)

Denmark is among a handful of countries allowing unmarried couples to reunite if they provide a signed declaration as proof of a qualifying relationship. Parents, grandparents and other family members of Danish residents can also reunite with similar measures.

To prevent any possible transmission of coronavirus, reuniting partners must also provide proof of a negative test taken within 72 hours of arrival. If that is not possible, they must agree to take a self-paid coronavirus test within 24 hours of arrival and to quarantine until the results are back.

One couple who has benefited from Denmark’s decision is American Elise Wyatt and Mark Joergensen, her Danish fiance. Wyatt recently flew from Boston to Iceland to Copenhagen to be with him after a five-month separation.

“The Danish government was incredibly helpful in assisting us to prepare documentation and understand regulations for entry,” she said.

Since 2016, the couple had traveled to see each other almost every month before the ban. “The hardest part about being separated during the pandemic was that it was terrifying to think that if one of us got sick, we couldn’t support each other in person,” Wyatt said.

In recent weeks, other European countries have adopted measures similar to Denmark, with Austria and Switzerland promising to provide new information soon. In the meantime, Wyatt and others vow to continue fighting and promoting awareness in hopes that other countries will open.

“We feel so passionate about this issue because it’s unjust,” she said. “My fiance and I recognize how lucky we are to be reunited, but there are countless of other couples and families still separated. Hopefully our story inspires other countries to consider Denmark’s approach and realize that love is not tourism.”

Read more:

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