Thousands of Americans lack resources to return home, remain overseas amid conflicting embassy guidance. Senators ask for information to secure financial relief for Americans who incurred high costs to get home.
[WASHINGTON, DC] – As thousands of Americans and lawful permanent residents remain stranded overseas due to COVID-19 pandemic travel restrictions, U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) led a group of 11 senators calling on the State Department to take steps to secure their immediate and safe return to the United States. The senators urged the State Department to provide up-to-date and detailed data on the number of Americans unable to return home to ensure necessary resources, improve coordination between agencies and governments to maximize sharing of information, and provide repatriation flights if other options are not available.
“We write to express our urgent concern for the thousands of Americans and lawful permanent residents still stranded overseas due to travel restrictions related to the Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19),” the senators wrote in a letter to State Department Secretary Mike Pompeo. “We understand that efforts to return to the United States have been complicated by a lack of commercial flight options, national travel prohibitions, closed borders and airspace, and escalating costs, among other challenging factors. We urge you to provide disaggregated data on the number of stranded Americans and lawful permanent residents, centralize available information, coordinate with other agencies, and provide repatriation flights if commercial options are unavailable.”
The senators slammed the State Department for not yet implementing centralized, standardized guidance on how to return home amid the pandemic, as alarming reports indicate embassy officials worldwide continue to give conflicting guidance to stranded Americans. “Given the rapid implementation of travel restrictions and difficulties securing aviation permissions, the Department must immediately centralize and standardize guidance on how to return home while exerting maximum diplomatic pressure in negotiating with foreign governments to ensure flight access and assistance for all Americans,” the senators wrote.
The senators also urged the State Department to provide Congress with information to ensure necessary financial relief for Americans who had already incurred high costs to return home, writing: “many of Americans and lawful permanent residents had already incurred thousands of dollars in unexpected costs as they sought commercial options at skyrocketing prices, or paid significant sums for transportation to international hubs, while navigating a rapidly evolving situation that is no fault of their own. We request additional information regarding additional authorities or resources that may be necessary to provide financial relief and waive fees for transportation provided by the State Department repatriation Task Force, including transportation facilitated and provided by the Department of Defense.”
The letter was also signed by U.S. Senators Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Bob Casey (D-PA), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), Edward J. Markey (D-MA), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Kamala Harris (D-CA), Jacky Rosen (D-NV), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Patty Murray (D-WA), and Chris Murphy (D-CT).
The full letter is available here.