April 7 — Though the European Commission (EC) is set to debate next April 12 whether it should impose visa requirements on U.S. and Canadian citizens, several officials described this discussion as a technical procedure that isn't likely to impose new travel restrictions on business travelers and tourists.
“It's not going to happen, of course, but the issue of visa reciprocity is a long-standing issue for the Eastern European member states,” an EU member state trade official told Bloomberg BNA April 7. “The Commission can't look as if it's not siding with the Eastern European member states. But it's not realistic to assume that the EU member states like the Netherlands, France, Germany, Italy, etc., that enjoy visa-free travel to the U.S. would let this system collapse just due to a few member states.”
Two years ago, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Poland and Romania—whose citizens can't travel to the U.S. without first applying for a visa at a U.S. consulate—demanded in a visa reciprocity law that the EU give the U.S., Australia, Canada, Japan, and other third-party countries 24 months to modify their visa laws to treat all EU citizens equally. That 24-month deadline ends April 12, when the EC's 28 commissioners are to discuss—but likely not act on—the law. But in the wake of a drop in tourist visits to Europe after twin terrorists attacks in Paris and Brussels, EU tour operators say mere talk of new visas sends a bad signal.
“The North American inbound tourism market is worth around 60 billion dollars a year,” Tom Jenkins, chief executive officer of the European Tour Operators Association, told Bloomberg BNA April 7. “Even talk of a visa scheme could put that in jeopardy. This sounds like a brazen act of stupidity.”
A European Commission spokeswoman who requested that her name not be used confirmed that the risk of any new visa measures is low.
“Regardless of the outcome in the meeting of the EU commissioners, there won't be visa restrictions on April 12,” she told Bloomberg BNA April 7. “There's a four-month period where either the EU Parliament or the EU Council can object to this.”
Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Poland and Romania aren't eligible for membership in the U.S. Visa Waiver Program (VWP), because their citizens have a visitor visa (B-visa) refusal rate of over 3 percent.
Canada, for its part, currently imposes visa requirements on citizens of Bulgaria and Romania, the EC said in a press statement sent to Bloomberg BNA April 7.
An EU report on the U.S.-EU visa issue notes that “the [U.S.] 3% visa refusal rate is only within reach for one Member State (Cyprus). Even if the refusal rate were increased to 10% by Congress, it is still unlikely that all five Member States could join the VWP by April 2016.”
To contact the reporter on this story: Michael Scaturro in Brussels at: firstname.lastname@example.org
To contact the editor on this story: Heather Rothman at: email@example.com
EU visa regulation is available at http://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/ALL/?uri=celex%3A32001R0539
EU Commission report assessing the situation of non-reciprocity with certain third countries in the area of visa policy available at http://ec.europa.eu/dgs/home-affairs/e-library/documents/policies/borders-and-visas/visa-policy/docs/c_2015_7455_en.pdf
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