Although these thousands of people took out direct loans, the primary method of payment for state-chartered repatriation flights was promissory notes, with nothing more than an estimate of their cost. Most returnees, especially at the start of the ministry’s efforts, were given blank documents they had to sign before boarding the plane, promising to reimburse the government on bill.
And while they haven’t had their passports invalidated, they’re still waiting for bills too – and dread the unknown price, even as the country accumulates record unemployment figures.
A family checks the mailbox every day, fearing charges of up to $ 10,000.
Daniel Musick, his wife and two children had lived in northern India for three years, but as the coronavirus situation worsened and the US Embassy began to issue terrible warnings, they decided that they would be safer in the United States.
By then, commercial flights had ceased and their only choice was a state repatriation flight operated by United Airlines.
Musick doesn’t yet know how much their bill will be, but an embassy official at the airport told him it would be almost $ 2,500 per person. Another point of uncertainty is whether Musick will be billed for his one-year-old son, who has not taken his seat.
“I’m not looking for a free flight,” he said in an interview with POLITICO. But for a family of four with the income of two teachers, they dread – and expect – a crushing bill. “I have no idea how we’re going to pay for this,” Musick said.
Others are still waiting for their bills up to four months later, according to interviews with 6 people who took flights from India, Peru and Guatemala in March and April.
Beyond the wait, they also do not know what the final price will be. Embassy officials would give rough estimates at best, which in at least one case increased fourfold as the flight approached.
Zara Bloom, who was trying to get back from Lima, Peru, said signing the blank promissory note was “super scary,” but she felt like she had no choice. She has lost her job since returning home and said she didn’t think she could pay a big bill. She, like the others, does not know what amount to expect.
There are at least two bills up for grabs in Congress that would change that, both introduced earlier this year. However, neither has made it past the introductory stage.
“If you have to get the State Department out by plane, that’s not a good or safe situation. And a lot of these families can’t afford it, frankly, ”Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.), The sponsor of one of the Bills, said in an interview. “The cost is really high. Representative Nydia Velazquez sponsored a similar bill that has 35 cosponsors, including several Republicans.
Dingell noted that other countries had failed to seek reimbursement from their citizens for repatriation flights during the pandemic, and said Americans shouldn’t have to pay either.
“This is what we have to do. It is one of the tasks of the State Department, ”she said.