IMPACT – MEDIUM
What is the change? Under a legal deadline, the European Commission issued a report Tuesday on the status of visa-waiver reciprocity with Canada and the United States. Neither Canada nor the U.S. offers full reciprocity of visa waivers to all 28 EU member countries, triggering EU regulations that require the commission to take steps, including suspension of visa waivers for American and Canadian citizens. Any changes to visa requirements could be blocked by the European Parliament and the European Council.
What does the change mean? The commission report outlined the negative economic, logistical and political consequences of suspending visa waivers for U.S. and Canadian citizens, despite an explicit EU regulatory framework requiring action. In its report, the commission calls on the European Parliament and the European Council to “urgently launch discussions and to take a position on the most appropriate way forward” and to inform the commission of their positions no later than July 12.
Background: The European Commission was required to discuss the visa reciprocity issue by April 12. The deadline was set two years ago when the commission reported that the U.S. and Canada did not offer full reciprocity of visa waivers to all EU nationals.
At issue: the EU has lifted visa requirements for U.S. and Canadian nationals, but the U.S. and Canada have not lifted visa requirements for all EU countries. The current U.S. Visa Waiver Program allows nationals of 38 countries, including 23 European countries, to travel to the U.S. for up to 90 days without applying for a visitor visa at a consulate. The U.S. currently excludes Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Poland and Romania from its program, and Canada excludes Bulgaria and Romania.
Under an EU regulation, the commission is required to impose a 12-month suspension of the visa waiver unless Canada and the U.S. remove visa requirements for all EU countries. However, any changes to visa requirements must pass the European Parliament and Council and could be blocked by individual EU countries.
Today’s commission report assessed the consequences of suspending the visa waiver, finding that it would cost €20-25 million in infrastructure to deal with new visa applications, would make it worse for all EU nationals who would likely be required to obtain visas to visit the U.S. and could jeopardize trade negotiations on several pending treaties with Canada and the U.S.
The report is available here.
BAL Analysis: U.S. immigration law requires that countries meet certain prerequisites before they are considered for the Visa Waiver Program, including a 3 percent rate of visa refusal for nationals applying for U.S. visas. None of the five Eastern European countries currently meet the prerequisite. In addition, the U.S. has recently imposed stricter rules for countries participating in its Visa Waiver Program and for individual travelers registering in the program, and the climate does not support expansion of the program to additional countries. On the other hand, Europe is unlikely to reintroduce visa requirements which would cause an estimated €1.8 billion loss in EU tourism from the roughly 10 million Americans who visit Europe each year, and would trigger a reciprocal response under U.S. law, requiring re-introduction of visas for Europeans traveling to the U.S.
BAL is following potential changes to visa requirements and will report on any significant developments as the EU negotiates potential solutions to the impasse.
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