EU Considers Rescinding Visa Waiver Program for U.S. Citizens

Lawmakers in Europe have again debated halting the visa waiver program for Americans until "full reciprocity" is reached but are pondering potential tourism losses.

Published Mar 3, 2017

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Lawmakers in the European Union are considering a measure that would require Americans visiting member countries in the summer of 2017 to apply for holiday visas in lieu of waivers.

According to Reuters, the proposal came in response to the exclusion of four nations (including Cyprus) from the United States' visa waiver program:

The European Parliament called on the EU executive to force Americans to apply for visas before visiting Europe this summer, stepping up pressure to resolve a long-running transatlantic dispute on the issue.

The European Commission stressed it was pursuing a diplomatic resolution to the row, leaving it unlikely that it would act on the vote by lawmakers setting a May deadline to impose visas - a move that could hurt Europe's tourism sector.

Washington refuses to grant visa-free access to people from four east European states and Cyprus, while those from the other 23 member states can enter using the U.S. visa waiver program. EU rules call for equal treatment for all Union citizens.

Quartz offered a more direct summary of the years-long dispute over reciprocity:

The reason is simple. American visitors can enjoy visa-free travel throughout the bloc, but the US doesn’t reciprocate. EU travelers from some member countries still need visas to enter the US, including citizens of Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Poland, and Romania.

The European Parliament passed a non-binding motion on March 2 [2017] to temporarily reintroduce visa requirements for US citizens “within two months.” The dispute has been running since 2014, when the European Commission was first notified that five countries, Australia, Brunei, Canada, Japan, and the US, were failing to reciprocate visa-free travel to all EU citizens. Since then, Australia, Brunei, and Japan have all granted visa-free travel for all EU citizens, with Canada promising to do so in December. The US, meanwhile, hasn’t budged.

The European Commission, the executive decider on the matter, had until 2016 to respond to the first notification, but has yet to take any legal action. Though European lawmakers imposed another deadline for the Commission to respond, they don’t have the power to enforce the request.

Under the provisions of the U.S. visa waiver program, visitors from most (but not all) countries in Europe are permitted to enter the United States for up to 90 days without first applying for travel visas:

The Visa Waiver Program (VWP) enables most citizens or nationals of participating countries to travel to the United States for tourism or business for stays of 90 days or less without first obtaining a visa, when they meet all requirements explained below. Travelers must have a valid Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) approval prior to travel. If you prefer to have a visa in your passport, you may still apply for a visitor (B) visa.

An EU lawmaker said the European Parliament sought "full visa reciprocity" for all EU citizens, but Reuters noted that the "economic cost of imposing visa restrictions on the millions of American tourists and business travelers who visit Europe each year [would be] a major disincentive" in leveraging the waiver program currently in place or imposing the restriction.

European Parliament addressed the issue on 2 March 2017, with some speakers asserting that the share of EU citizens affected by current U.S. visa waiver program restrictions was significant 14 per cent:

By a show of hands, parliamentarians passed a resolution demanding that the European Commission impose visas by May [2017], ahead of the traditionally busy tourist season.

"The lack of visa reciprocity affects at least 14 percent of EU citizens, namely the citizens of Bulgaria, Romania, Croatia, Cyprus and Poland as well as some EU citizens with dual nationality," said ALDE group Vice President Filiz Hyusmenova in a statement following the vote.

"It is high time for the commission to show administrative will and political strength, not only for defending those citizens' rights, but also for reinforcing the strength and unity of the European Union on the international scene," she added.

Deutsche Welle reported that officials in the EU hoped to resolve the dispute during a U.S. and EU meeting scheduled for 15 June 2017.


Guarascio, Francesco.   "Euro Lawmakers Press EU to Impose Visas on U.S. Citizens."     Reuters.   2 March 2017.

Mohdin, Aamna.   "The EU Is Threatening to Slap Visa Requirements on US Travelers."     Quartz.   3 March 2017.

Deutsche Welle.   "EU Must Reintroduce Visas for US Citizens, Say European Lawmakers."     2 March 2017.

United States Department of State Bureau of Consular Affairs.   "Visa Waiver Program."     Accessed 3 March 2017.

Kim LaCapria is a former writer for Snopes.

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