Cover photo: anti-war sign protesting U.S. entry into WWII
Hi, everyone. Are you doing okay? I know life with Covid-19 isn’t easy, and I hope you’re all staying safe and keeping healthy in these challenging times.
I want to take a moment to talk with you about a problem that international communities are now facing everywhere. As nations isolate themselves from the rest of the world, foreign nationals - workers, students, and families living as non-citizens in a foreign country - are finding it increasingly difficult to stay in the countries they’ve built their lives in. Travel restrictions and immigration policy changes are hitting non-citizens the hardest, and without the right passport in their hands, many people have no choice but to travel back to their native countries under rather difficult circumstances.
I fell victim to visa policies myself when I was forced to leave my home in Viet Nam and return to the USA against my wishes. It didn’t matter that I had lived in Ha Noi for over two years educating children in both English and computer literacy. It didn’t matter that I had found a home, made friends, or fallen in love with the woman of my dreams. What mattered was that I’m a foreigner, and the Viet Nam government decided it didn’t want me around.
Much like the USA, Viet Nam implemented a series of travel restrictions on foreigners that eventually made it impossible to enter the country without a Viet Nam passport. Though I was already living in the country before these restrictions were introduced, I had recently changed my visa status. My visa would remain active through 2020, but one of the requirements for keeping it valid was that I would have to exit and re-enter the country every ninety days - dubbed a ‘visa run’ by local expats. No, it doesn’t make any sense, but that’s the policy. That little technicality ended up being my downfall.
With the Viet Nam government denying entry to all foreigners upon arrival, I couldn’t leave the country and expect to get back in. I went to the Immigration Bureau and tried to make the case for waiving the requirement due to the current health crisis, but nothing I said would convince them to allow me to stay. Even the US Embassy was spectacularly useless during all this since an embassy whose personnel is recalled to their home country can’t be expected to help its citizens in a time of need. In the end, I had no choice but to leave Viet Nam and return to the USA.
In a matter of days, my entire life was flipped on its head, and it was all because of a single visa policy left in place in a time of large-scale travel restrictions. I was forced to leave my home, my life, and my love behind in Ha Noi, and I have no idea when I’ll be able to return.
Consider our Foreign Nationals
Of course, I’m not the only foreign national impacted by these worldwide travel restrictions. Others like me have also been forced to leave the homes they made abroad. The difference is that I’m extremely lucky. I have family in America that can take me in and support my return financially. I have a landlady in Ha Noi who was willing to halve my rent while I’m away so that I still have a home when I return.
But what if I wasn’t that lucky? What if I had gone broke paying for the flights I had to take back to my native country? What if I had been stranded somewhere because of flight cancellations? What if I didn’t have the means to survive once I got back?
Many of the millions - perhaps billions - of other foreign nationals living around the world are not as lucky as I am, and the citizen-first policies enacted by our governments are putting many of them at risk of being in the same position I was in, or worse. International education systems have failed to take care of their students, cross-border humanitarian efforts have come to a standstill, and people are being kicked out of their homes and thrown into quarantine based solely on their nationalities - not on medical science. (You can read about these issues and more at the links below, and if these are things that upset you, please speak out about them.)
Listen, I realize that now is a time that nations must make difficult decisions about how to keep their people safe, to rally behind the call of ‘protecting our own’, but we no longer live in a world where ‘our own’ can be limited to people who look like us or who carry the same passport. We live in an international world, a world where communities mix and grow and thrive - often in spite of our cultural differences - and we need to recognize that the foreign workers, students, and families that make up those communities are as much a part of our countries as we are. In this pandemic, we all deserve the same protection, and right now these people aren’t getting it.
If we fail to consider the plight of our foreign nationals, they’ll leave - whether they choose to or not. I promise we’ll miss them when they’re gone.
- How international students are supposed to deal with coronavirus, according to their US universities (Quartz)
- For international students staying in the U.S., COVID-19 closures led to a scramble for housing (Marketplace, audio)
- Foreigners caught in Vietnam visa limbo (VNExpress International)
- Black people in China ‘banned from McDonalds and evicted from their homes’ over coronavirus fears (Independent)
- Coronavirus threatens to turn aid crises into ‘humanitarian catastrophes’ (The Guardian)
- Coronavirus: ‘If I can’t work, I can’t feed my family’ (BBC)
- World Bank: Global Remittances Set To Decline Sharply As A Result Of Coronavirus (Forbes)
- COVID-19 through a migration lens: policy responses should be inclusive of migrants (World Bank)
Share Your Story
If your life abroad has been impacted by visa restrictions related to Covid-19, please share your story with me! I want to help you get your story out to others so that people can see more of what’s going on around them. Of course, I’ll only share your story with your permission.
You can share with everyone right away by commenting on this post, or you can message me directly by clicking this email icon.
Good luck out there, friends. Stay safe.