Covid-19: In Belgium, Japan and the United States, French expatriates do not travel as they want

In the correspondents’ club, franceinfo crosses borders to see what is happening elsewhere in the world. Direction the United States, Japan and Belgium where the movements of French residents are subject to significant restrictions.

After a year of the Covid-19 pandemic, of a global crisis, how are the French living abroad living ? The correspondents’ club takes us to the United States, Japan and Belgium, for a dive into the daily life of expatriates. Reuniting with their families or simply going to work is quite complicated.

In the United States, the puzzle of family reunion

160,000 French people live in the United States , the equivalent of the population of a city like Toulon or Grenoble. Expats who find themselves stuck, between the travel ban decided by Donald Trump and the difficulties of returning to French soil. Just a year ago, the Republican President closed the US border to all travelers from the European Union . The most direct consequence for French expatriates in the United States is that, of course, they could leave the country, but without any guarantee of being able to return. The only solution, and it is still the case today, is to transit for at least two weeks through a country not subject to this travel ban: Croatia, Turkey or Mexico, in order to be able to return to the United States. United.

The other solution is to get an exemption issued by the State Department. Without it, you are stranded in the United States. Many expatriates on American soil have not seen their relatives or their families for a year because the French, except by exemption and less than a 15-day visit to Croatia or Turkey, still do not have the right to right to come to the United States.

French expatriates in the United States have also been prevented from returning to their countries of origin by the French authorities and this has caused a lot of misunderstanding in the expatriate community. At the end of January, Jean Castex announced that any entry into France for travelers coming from countries outside the European Union would be prohibited, except for an overriding reason. And the reasons were very severe: death of a loved one, professional transfer or permanent return. The French settled in the United States were doubly stuck. Since then, the Council of State has been seizedand finally lifted these compelling reasons. French people residing in the United States can therefore now return to France, with of course a negative Covid test, all the necessary precautions, but once again without any guarantee of being able to return to American soil.

Japan timidly relaxes the rules

In Japan , last year, expats were not allowed to return to Japan after leaving, even for a few days. But through international pressure, Japanese authorities have agreed to treat already established foreign residents the same as Japanese nationals. So they can go in and out . But the situation is still extremely difficult for those whose part of the family is in France. Example with this French mother whose daughter, a student in Paris, wanted to come and join her parents in Tokyo to end isolation. After submitting her visa application at the consulate in Paris, she receives a message telling her that an authorization from Japanese immigration is required: “On December 28, Japan closed its doors once again and there we said to ourselves it’s screwed up, says the mother of the family. We received an extremely curt response announcing that our daughter did not have her visa. “  In such a case it is not possible to reapply for a visa for the same reason during the six months following the refusal.

For the French who have to come to work or study in Japan but have not yet arrived, there too the shoe pinch. New expats, in theory, cannot arrive until the measures are relaxed. For a person transferred to Japan, a dispensation must be obtained by demonstrating that his presence is essential. For foreign students, the situation is also very complex. Those whose return to school is in April cannot come. This may be all the more annoying for them as the Olympic Games delegations will benefit from exemptions. 

Brussels transformed into a fortress

Entering and leaving Belgium are subject to very strict rules , among the toughest in the European Union. It’s simple, travel deemed non-essential has been banned since the end of January. To cross the border, you have to prove that you are going to work or that you have, for example, a spouse who lives abroad. You need proof like a common lease. What makes the expatriates of all nationalities cringe, many of them living in Brussels, the seat of the institutions. These restrictions also make life particularly difficult for French commuters, those who work in Paris and live in Brussels. For them, the matter got even worse when France began to require a PCR test. 

Antoine Lemalié is one of those commuters. His wife has been transferred to the European capital and he travels back and forth by car because there are fewer checks. “A month ago it was very simple: we passed and nobody stopped us and then gradually there began to be some checks. There is a detour which is organized shortly after the border and during which we are arrested at random and we ask for the PCR test. Tomorrow, when I go to France, I will have my PCR test if ever I am checked. France seems more on the alert on these subjects. ” 

This father goes back and forth quickly, never more than 48 hours, on pain of having to do another PCR test on his return. This test is required by Belgium as well as a quarantine. Antoine also had to give up the February family vacation: “We didn’t leave to avoid being turned away”.

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