COVID Travel Bans Are Still Keeping Families Apart—Their Stories Are Heartbreaking

Fully vaccinated people are still unable to visit loved ones in other countries due to travel restrictions—now they're making an important point: love is not tourism.

An image of vaccination cards.
Photo: Getty Images.

If you've had to keep your children away from loved ones due to COVID, you know exactly how heartbreaking that can be. Maybe you've introduced your parents to your new baby on FaceTime. Maybe you've been hit with the realization that you won't see your nieces and nephews until they're practically unrecognizable. Whatever the case may be, you've likely put this heartbreaking period behind you thanks to the availability of COVID vaccines and the freedom they afford us.

But despite the progress that's been made, many people are still being kept away from loved ones and partners due to COVID-related travel restrictions. The stories are heartbreaking: There are fathers who haven't met their children, engaged couples who are unable to see each other in person, children who can't visit their aging parents. The stories are being told under the hashtag #LoveIsNotTourism, which has become a full movement advocating for the rights of these people to reunite. Because their desire to gain access to people they love isn't about wanting to travel or experience tourism. It's about love.

Of course, there are very real health and safety concerns behind our travel restrictions. What's difficult to reconcile, though, is the fact that so many fully vaccinated people are still being restricted in this way. That's tough to swallow when so much of the world has opened up for tourism and recreational travel.

Travel restrictions apply to non-citizens who have been in 33 countries (including China, Iran the United Kingdom, and India) 14 days before entering the United States. There are exceptions: Restrictions do not apply to lawful permanent residents of the United States, their spouses and minor children, and travelers who could help COVID mitigation efforts, for example. But for, say, an engaged couple who is kept apart due to these travel rules, the process of fighting for the right to be together again is arduous.

Take Emily Quiros, who is engaged to a U.S. citizen but is currently in the Philippines. According to a letter she wrote to the Department of Foreign Affairs in the Philippines, Quiros is requesting an entry exemption for humanitarian reasons: Quiros gave birth to her and fiancé's son a year ago. In March of 2021, when the son was just 8 months old, he was diagnosed with hemophilia B. He died on March 30 of a brain bleed.

"My fiancé wanted to come before I give birth but he wasn't able to because of the travel restrictions. I delivered my baby via C-section at eight months and he stayed in the NICU for three weeks fighting for his life. I gave birth alone and had to take care of him without my fiancé," Quiros tells Parents. "I visited my son every day at the hospital. He was a healthy baby for almost 8 months until this suddenly happened... My fiancé wasn't able to hold him; he came to this world without his dad and his dad was just watching him through video call while he's dying."

How unbelievably heartbreaking.

"I can't blame the government for these travel restrictions because it's their way to protect the country," Quiros adds. "However, there should be exemptions for binational families and unmarried couples because to be with your loved ones is not merely tourism."

Quiros, along with many others who have been kept away from loved ones, have posted under the hashtag #LoveIsNotTourism.

These stories are gutting, and we hope the movement behind this hashtag gives these people the leverage they need in order to be reunited with their loved ones.

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