NY Times: “European Union to Consider Requiring Visas for U.S. Travelers”

by Joseph McKeown

The days of visa free travel for Americans to the European Union may be over. While Americans take for granted the ease of traveling without a visa to many European countries—while, conversely, many Europeans travel to the US visa-free under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP)—the European Union is threatening to change the requirements if the US government does not agree to include additional European member states, including Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Poland, and Romania, in the Visa Waiver Program. Although the deadline for the decision was this week, and has now been moved to this summer, the timing is not ideal, as the New York Times explains

The escalating dispute comes at a time when Washington is especially concerned about security, in the aftermath of terrorist attacks in Europe and the presence of suspected terrorists in the flow of migrants to the Continent out of the Middle East. Should the commission decide to move toward imposing visa requirements, it could be a blow to trans-Atlantic relations just before a visit to Europe by President Obama and could complicate negotiations on other issues, including a proposed trade deal.

Security concerns, however, haven’t affected certain European officials who are pressuring Washington to include the additional countries in visa-free travel. “Over the past months, all sides have intensified their efforts in order to reach tangible and concrete progress,” Mina Andreeva, a spokeswoman for the commission, said in a statement. “Our goal is full reciprocal visa waiver with our strategic partners,” she said.

The Visa Waiver Program currently includes thirty-eight member countries, and the program enables eligible citizens of approved countries to travel to the United States for tourism or business for stays of ninety days or less without first obtaining a visa, as long as they apply and are approved under the ESTA program. Last year additional security measures were added to the Visa Waiver Program.

In Bulgaria, the economy minister, Bojidar Loukarsky, reportedly told local news media in 2014 that his country’s support for a trade pact with the US was contingent on visa-free travel to the US for his country’s citizens, while Marietje Schaake, a Dutch member of the European Parliament, disagreed, telling the New York Times: “No matter what happens with visas, this should not impact trade negotiations with the United States as immigration plays no formal part in those talks.”

Artur Habant, the spokesman for the Permanent Representation of Poland to the European Union in Brussels, said it’s a matter of fairness, as US citizens can travel to Poland visa-free. “Polish governments have been lobbying for a long time with the U.S. authorities, in Congress and in the administration, to eliminate this obstacle in traveling to the United States.” US officials, however, are concerned that countries such as Romania have not met the requirements to be included in the VWP.