Fri | Jan 21, 2022

After travelling for funeral, elderly siblings stuck in US yearn for home

Published:Sunday | May 17, 2020 | 9:17 AMKaryl Walker - Senior Gleaner Writer
Warren Williams
Warren Williams
Norma and Warren Williams
Norma and Warren Williams

When siblings Norma and Warren Williams left Jamaica to attend the funeral of a relative in Margate, South Florida, in February, they had no idea that a rapidly developing COVID-19 outbreak would have crippled global travel, leaving them stranded in the United States.

The Williams siblings are among hundreds of Jamaicans currently in the US with no sign of how long they will have to wait before getting a chance to return to their homeland, as they also try to prepare for the uncertainties that await them when they arrive.

“We have no idea when we will be allowed to return home. What we will have to go through when we arrive is another matter,” Norma Williams told The Sunday Gleaner.

Jamaica closed its borders to incoming passenger traffic on March 24 to curb the spread of the new coronavirus. Ports will remain closed until May 31, except for Cabinet-approved exemptions.

The Unites States has registered more than 75,000 deaths from the deadly coronavirus which causes the COVID-19 respiratory disease. More than 1.2 million persons have also been infected in that county. In the state of Florida, where the Williamses are presently staying, more than 1,600 deaths have been registered with more than 40,000 persons infected.

The city of Margate lies within Broward County, which is home to the majority of Jamaicans and their offspring in South Florida. More than 200 persons have succumbed to the virus there.

Jamaican nationals – including students, workers and tourists – now marooned in the United States have been urged to make contact with the Jamaican consulate in Washington, DC, in order to be properly documented.

“We have been receiving hundreds of calls weekly from Jamaicans who want to return home,” an associate who answered a consulate hotline told The Sunday Gleaner.

For the Williamses, it is particularly concerning that they are being required to sign up for re-entry into the country of their birth.

“Why he and I have to apply to come back to my country?” 69-year-old Norma Williams said. “We survive because we are with loving relatives who understand the crisis.”


Travellers from Jamaica who enter the United States on visitor’s visas are allowed up to six months to remain in the US. Staying in the US past the time allowed by an immigration officer is an offence punishable by visa revocation.

However, the Jamaican consulate has committed to representing the interests of Jamaican travellers who find themselves overstaying because of closed borders.

Even though the allotted time has not yet elapsed for the Williams siblings, they are yearning for home.

Norma and her 77-year-old brother, Warren, have their roots in Manchester in the rustic district of May Day.

At their ages, there is no American dream.

“We just come and go when we can, but our life is definitely back home,” the woman said.

When the Williamses are allowed to return to their beloved country, they will have to undergo tests for the virus and could be quarantined at a state facility if the results are positive. Negative results would mean that they would have to undergo home quarantine.

“We have been told that when we get home, our relatives must not come to the airport to pick us up and that we will be transported by the Government. We are willing to do that. It doesn’t matter at this point,” Norma said, the frustration evident in her voice.

Even though there are restrictions on movement, social-distancing guidelines and other coronavirus hurdles to surmount, the siblings remain optimistic.

“We are very thankful, and in spite of everything, we are alive and coping. That is the most important thing,” Norma said.

The Williams siblings and the other Jamaicans who are languishing in the US have fared worse than the 120 Jamaicans repatriated from the United Kingdom last Wednesday, and they are anxiously awaiting their day.

“They tell us we might be home somewhere around the end of May, but we are just hoping to be home [soon],” she said.