As the coronavirus pandemic spread and travel restrictions worldwide left Americans abroad uncertain about whether they could make it home, President Donald Trump’s administration offered repatriation flights to get everyone home. The president didn’t waste an opportunity to brag about it, saying, “We brought back 40,000 Americans who were literally stuck in other countries.”
But according to Politico, there’s a problem: Many of these Americans are now on the hook for thousands of dollars for these charter flights, some of them without even knowing the exact amount they’d owe beforehand.
“Some Americans had to use passports as collateral for loans — but months later, they’re still waiting for a bill, so their passports are invalid,” reported Sam Mintz. “Others signed promissory notes agreeing to pay an eventual bill they’re still waiting for, and dreading a price tag that for a family of four could weigh in at $10,000.”
One person who ended up in this situation was Ash Maki, who agreed to take a charter flight from Peru to get home to California and put up his passport. “He said he was told that he’ll have to apply for a new passport and that it would only be approved after he repays the repatriation loan in full. There’s just one problem: He’s still waiting for a bill. In the meantime, Maki, an American citizen, has a passport that can’t be used. ‘It was supposed to be 8-10 weeks from the date of travel, and it’s now been three months,’ Maki said. ‘They are basically holding us hostage until they decide that it’s convenient for them.'”
State Department consular affairs undersecretary Karin King has testified to Congress that the agency has no authority under the law to forgive these debts. However, according to the report, people are “still awaiting bills as much as four months later” and “the main method of payment for State-chartered repatriation flights was promissory notes, without anything more than an estimate of how much it might cost” — leaving many families in a state of limbo, dreading how much they might be told they owe and unsure when it will come due.
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