New visa policies in US, Europe may hurt summer travel
Monday, May 01, 2017
With the unofficial start of summer travel about a month away, attention continues to shine upon the travel industry as both the U.S. and European Union focus legislation aimed at their respective travel visa policies.
At a recent appearance at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly said the rules for allowing Europeans to travel to the U.S. without a visa should be examined because of the threat of terrorism.
"We have to start looking very hard at that [visa waiver] program," Kelly said. "Not eliminating it and not doing anything excessive, but look very hard at the program."
Kelly is concerned that ISIS fighters with European ties may take advantage of the visa waiver program to attack the U.S. According to Euromonitor, 14 million European citizens who are covered by the visa waiver program traveled to the U.S. in 2015.
"We are the Super Bowl in terms of terrorists," he says. "That's where they wanna come."
Tighter policies have been placed upon the U.S. travel industry since the change in White House administration at the beginning of the year. President Donald Trump's executive order focusing on predominantly Muslim countries has faced ridicule from both inbound and abroad travelers creating a fear within the travel industry that not all visitors are welcome to the U.S.
While the U.S. says visitors are still welcome, they will face tougher screenings. In March, the Trump administration instructed officials to increase security checks on visas issued to tourists, business travelers and relatives of American residents.
"Consular officers should not hesitate to refuse any case presenting security concerns," wrote Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in the cables, titled "Implementing Immediate Heightened Screening and Vetting of Visa Applications."
As the U.S. continues to clamp down on the vetting of U.S. visas, the European Union is also introducing tighter restrictions upon their visa waiver program.
In March, the European Parliament voted to end visa-free travel for Americans traveling within the EU. The vote came after the U.S. failed to allow five EU countries — Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Poland and Romania — into their visa waiver program.
"The EU Commission is legally obliged to take measures temporarily reintroducing visa requirements for U.S. citizens, given that Washington still does not grant visa-free access to nationals of five EU countries. In a resolution approved on Thursday [March 2], MEPs urge the Commission to adopt the necessary legal measures within two months," said the European Parliament in a statement.
As of now, American travelers have been able to travel throughout Europe without needing a visa for stays of less than 90 days. A June 15 meeting is scheduled between the U.S.-EU to try to resolve the visa issue.
"We will report on further progress made before the end of June and continue to work closely with both the European Parliament and the Council," a Commission spokeswoman said, referring to the council which groups the governments of the 28 EU member states.
If the visa resolution remains in place, Americans will have to apply for extra documents to travel throughout Europe. In 2016, 12.6 million U.S. citizens traveled to Europe, according to the U.S. National Travel and Tourism Office.
While some lawmakers agree with the need for tougher visa regulations for American travelers, others think European travel may suffer.
"Making it more difficult for U.S. citizens to travel to Europe would certainly deprive the European travel and tourism sector of essential revenue, and put thousands of European jobs at stake in one of the few sectors which experiences a strong growth in employment," Eduardo Santander, executive director of the ETC, wrote in a joint letter with Michael de Blust, secretariat of the Network for the European Private Sector in Tourism, to MEPs.
One thing is certain: Both American and European travelers will need to check to make sure they have the proper documentation for any travel this upcoming summer.
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