Today, the European Commission met to discuss whether it should continue to allow U.S. and Canadian citizens the privilege of visiting the region without the necessity of a visa. The Commission asked governments and European Union lawmakers to provide recommendations by no later than July 12.
By way of background, the U.S. does not require for citizens from twenty-three out of the twenty-eight European Union counties to obtain a visa prior to visiting the U.S. These countries are all part of the U.S. Visa Waiver Program. It does, however, require citizens of Poland, Cyprus, Romania, Bulgaria, and Croatia to obtain visa, because according to U.S. Department of State these countries do not meet the legal requirements to be part of the U.S. Visa Waiver Program.
The fact that the U.S. does not grant full reciprocal visa rights to all citizens of the EU has been a hotly debated topic for the Commission. Under the EU’s rules, the Commission is required to institute a legal proceeding to suspend the U.S. visa waiver privileges upon recommendation by its members. Thereafter, parliament and member states have the four months to object and can request an additional to two month delay.
In spite of this, the Commission can avoid out right full suspension if it believes that suspending the visa waiver programs would have a significant negative impact on the EU’s external relations with the U.S. After today’s meeting, it was reported that the Commission would wait until after July 12 to decide whether to institute a legal proceeding. Thus, even if the EU decides to suspend U.S. visa waiver program privileges that step might not take effect until 2017.
The current administration continues to maintain that it is in an open dialogue with EU officials on the issue. But, despite the EU’s demands for full reciprocity, there is a growing sentiment in the U.S. regarding the repeated misuse of the visa waiver program and calls for tighter controls on who can enter the U.S. in light of recent terror attacks. For example, in January of this year, the U.S. implemented changes to prevent foreign nationals who have traveled to Iran, Iraq, Sudan or Syria from entering the country without a visa. It also denied automatic visa waivers for foreigners who have dual Iranian, Iraqi, Sudanese and Syrian citizenship. Additionally, in March, the U.S. Department of State announced that nationals of Visa Waiver Program countries who have traveled to Libya, Somalia or Yemen since March 1, 2011 are also now prohibited from using the program unless they qualify for an exemption or obtain a waiver.