America’s visa war with the EU

First, citizens from five EU countries (Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Poland and Romania) were prevented from entering the US without a visa. Now, the European Commission has voted to demand that Americans have a visa to enter Europe. This is the latest “serious negative step” in the ongoing US-EU visa war, according to a European Parliament official.

MEPs agreed that the European Parliament has a legal obligation to suspend the Visa Waiver Programme (VWP) for a year, a US programme that has been running with many EU countries (among others) since the late 1980s. According to the State Department’s Bureau of Consular Affairs, the decision to revoke visa-free travel rights is a result of the countries failing to fulfil the security requirements of the Visa Waiver Programme.

The motion was passed despite warnings from the European Travel Commission (ETC) of the potential consequences. ETC’s executive director, Eduardo Santander, stated that though it understands the desire to uphold the visa waiver reciprocity mechanism, the Commission is “very concerned about the economic and political impact of a suspension of visa waiver for US nationals”. It warns that thousands of European jobs would be put at risk, especially within the travel and tourism sector, one of the few sectors that experiences steady employment growth.

The US was not the only country in April 2014 to suspend visa waiver reciprocity with the EU. Australia, Brunei, Canada and Japan too failed to ensure the same visa rights that Europe offered their citizens. As a result, the Commission gave the countries two years to fix the issue before responding. Since then, Australia, Brunei and Japan have lifted their visa requirements, and Canada is set to do the same by the end of the year. The US is the only country to have chosen not to act.

According to the US Customs and Border Protection website, there are also new restrictions on applications by nationals of VWP countries “who have been present in Iraq, Syria, Iran and Sudan at any time on or after March 1, 2011”.

Image: Air Force One

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