By Katherine LaGrave. Photos: Getty.
Traveling to Europe may soon require a lot more than just booking that $65 flight: According to The New York Times, European Union lawmakers voted on Thursday to deny U.S. travelers visa-free access to all EU member states. With the move, the European Commission has license to act if the U.S. doesn't change its policy within two months. But what does this actually mean for Americans—and why is it happening now?
At its core, the issue is about reciprocity. As Lilit Marcus previously reported for Traveler, "while Americans can currently visit any EU country without a visa (provided they're not working or staying longer than three months), not every EU member nation gets the same privileges the other way around." At present, Europeans with passports from 23 member states, including France, Italy, the Netherlands, and Sweden, can enter the U.S. without a visa, but five EU members—Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Poland, and Romania—aren't part of the waiver program for the U.S. or Canada. And it appears the EU is fed up.
This isn't the first time the U.S. has been warned: Years ago, America agreed to a timetable to add EU states to its visa-free list; when it didn't appear to be making progress, it received a "notice" in 2014. The European Parliament and European Commission revisited the issue last April, when the two-year warning period expired. Canada, Australia, Brunei, and Japan were also warned along with the U.S., and all have lifted their visa requirements except Canada, which will do so in December.
"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 Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe 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.
Admittedly, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, referenced in a December 2016 report, says it excludes those five European countries because more than three percent of their applicants for visas to the U.S. are denied for one reason or another—a standard the DHS holds for all countries when considering them for the Visa Waiver Program. According to CNN, the European Commission delayed further action until President Donald Trump's administration was settled in place—and it seems that time is now.
Don't worry about your European vacation just yet: A European Commission spokesperson hinted that they may not even respond until summer, says Reuters, noting a planned EU-U.S. ministerial meeting on June 15 to try to resolve the visa issue before it devolves completely into a "tit-for-tat" situation. If the requirements are reinstated, EU lawmakers also note that they would be temporary until reciprocity is achieved, according to NPR.
Even a pause in visa-free crossings could lead to a significant dip in tourism and business travel to EU nations, two huge sources of revenue. The move would also be detrimental to the U.S., too: The country's passport is one of the most powerful in the world, but losing visa-free travel to all of the European Union's member states could lead to a tumble in the rankings, according to Passport Index. That means that American travelers, so used to (relatively) easy access to other countries, will have a harder time crossing borders than a Mexican passport holder.
This story originally appeared on Conde Nast Traveler.
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