The European Union is Considering Lifting Travel Restrictions for Couples Living Apart

ROME—Hair is being cut in London. People are sunning themselves on the beaches in Italy. Opera is being sung in Vienna. And crowds are watching Fourth of July celebrations across America. But one group of increasingly unhappy people feel they are being shut out of the fun: unmarried long-term couples still separated by travel bans.

When the European Union opened its external borders to 14 nations on July 14, thousands of long-term couples who live in separate countries that didn’t make the reciprocal cut are now forced to endure an even longer separation. Many of these couples live separately out of necessities like work, education, child custody issues and immigration status and have conducted perfectly happy and healthy relationships by just visiting each other often. 

But since the pandemic slammed the door on international travel last spring for all but essential reasons like work or family reunification, those couples do not have a legal right to see each other—even though many own joint property, have children together and live together for much of the year. 

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European Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Johansson has given oxygen to these disgruntled separated lovers by encouraging European countries to consider waiving restrictions for people in relationships who aren’t married. “I urge Member State authorities and indeed travel companies to apply as wide a definition of partnerships as possible,” she tweeted Friday. “The partner or ‘sweetheart’ with whom the Union citizen or legal resident has a durable relationship which is duly attested should be exempted from EU travel restrictions on non-essential travel,” she tweeted Friday, adding the trending hashtags #loveisessential and #loveisnottourism

Denmark has already heeded the call, allowing “sweethearts” who have dated for six months or more to cross the border from neighboring nations if they test negative for COVID-19 on arrival and quarantine for two weeks (with their significant other is OK), prompting the hashtag #doitlikeDenmark. Sweden is contemplating a similar exemption as well.

But thousands of people who live outside the Schengen area or are not on the EU’s safe list who don’t happen to be dating Swedes or Danes have no hope for the time being of being reunited. 

A Twitter user who tweets under the handle Dasha Dante has reached out to the Danish government to help to see if they would also extend their sweetheart exemption to non-Danish people. Though currently the exemption only applies to those in relationships with people from Denmark, many couples are hoping it will prove as a precedent for other countries to follow or as a tourism idea for Denmark if they start hosting reunions for couples separated by COVID. “Couple from Germany/Russia,” Dasha Dante writes. “Please help us because our government doesn’t want to do anything.” 

A sweetheart exemption would change the lives of 24-year-old Italian Oscar De Amicis, who lives in Rome, and his 22-year-old American girlfriend Nicole Pappalardo, who lives in California. The two have been together for three years and lived together in California for more than a year before he returned to Italy while Pappalardo stayed in California to finish her university degree. She planned to move to Rome upon graduation in May. But thanks to the pandemic travel restrictions, she has no legal right to come to Italy to join him. His concern with exemptions is how to prove you are in a durable relationship. 

“We have a signed lease together, photos of years going back of us kissing, but at some point there are privacy issues if you have to prove a relationship,” he told The Daily Beast. “It discriminates against people who don’t have a traditional relationship or aren’t ready for marriage — sure they aren’t married but does that make their love less important? … It’s a form of discrimination.”  

A woman who tweets under the handle Anna Karin has also expressed her concern about the value of love, writing on Twitter, “How long are couples have to be separated from each other. How long are you thinking that we can support this?” she writes. “Until a vaccine exist? Is there any guarantees that a vaccine will exist? Hearts are aching, we are crying. It gets worse every day. #LoveIsNotTourism #LoveIsEssential”

Norwegian native Trude Moen Fridberg had to give birth to her first baby alone in Norway because her Albanian partner Fejzo Brimi had no legal right to enter the country to be with her for the birth. Brimi had a residency permit to work in Norway but it expired and he has not been able to renew it because of the pandemic lockdown. “I went through the pregnancy alone, found out the sex of the baby alone and I gave birth alone,” she told VG news. Albania is not on the EU’s safe list.

American Alexandra Boles has a French fiancé she would love to see to start their lives together, but she has no idea when that will happen. Her fiancé was applying for a K1 “fiancé” visa to live in the U.S. when the pandemic exploded. But the US embassy in Paris is still closed for all but essential business, even though France has largely reopened, so it cannot be processed. “My happiness is across the ocean,” she wrote Saturday. “Am I a second class American now?”

The EU says it cannot allow a blanket lifting of restrictions for non-married couples from those countries not on the safe list, but it does not prohibit member states from making exceptions, according to a statement to The Daily Beast from the office of EU commissioner Ylva Johansson.

If exemptions like the Danish model come into effect on a global scale, it remains to be seen just how one would prove their relationship “durability” to qualify without a total disregard for privacy. One can imagine all sorts of scenarios to exploit the loophole, with people desperate to get to Europe or the U.S. for a holiday to suddenly have a companion they need to see. Surely Airbnb owners would be among the first to offer dating packages to skirt the regulations and recoup lost revenue.

Still, all EU member states do allow people from the U.S. and other countries where the pandemic is still out of control to enter the country if they have residency or prove they work in the EU. The U.S. also allows people from Europe to enter if they have proper documents or “essential” reasons.

Which leaves many wondering—why love isn’t considered essential, too? 

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