17th Mar 2018

EU counts cost of US visa war

  • Up to 10 million US visa requests would need to be processed by EU consulates (Photo: wilco737)

Imposing visas on US visitors would harm transatlantic relations and cost billions of euros, the European Commission has said. “It would be a major disaster,” a former EU diplomat added.

The commission published its warning to EU capitals and to the European Parliament on Tuesday (12 April).

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  • Simonyi: "Anyone who thinks it’s a purely legal issue doesn’t understand the dynamics of the relationship" (Photo: prameya)

It came following talks by EU officials in Strasbourg after a legal deadline expired on “non-reciprocity” - the fact that US nationals can go to any EU state without a permit, but people from five EU countries still need visas to enter the US.

The five countries are Bulgaria, Cyprus, Croatia, Poland, and Romania.

The US, last year, caused added annoyance by tightening conditions for the other 23 EU states on security grounds. It said all dual EU-Syrian nationals or all EU nationals who recently visited Libya, for instance, must now obtain visas.

The commission said member states and MEPs must make up their minds by 12 July whether to impose visas on US nationals in return.

Two EU diplomats told EUobserver on Tuesday it's "too early" to say what member states will decide.

If they go ahead, the 10 million or so US visitors to the EU each year would, from mid-October onward, require travel permits.

The commission warned that the step would have a “substantial impact” on EU-US relations.

It said it would “jeopardise” talks on a bilateral free-trade pact and that the US would reimpose visa requirements on all EU states at a cost of €2.5 billion a year to EU tourists and businessmen.

It estimated that a drop in US visitors would cost the EU tourist industry the best part of €1.8 billion a year. It said the aviation industry would suffer additional damage.

It also warned that EU consulates in the US would be overwhelmed with paperwork and that EU states would have to invest tens of millions of euros in new IT systems and in extra border officials.

Speaking to EUobserver from Washington, Andras Simonyi, the former Hungarian ambassador to the US, told EUobserver: “If this goes ahead, it would be a major disaster for the transatlantic relationship.”

Simonyi, who now heads the Center for Transatlantic Relations at Johns Hopkins University, said some US politicians are already saying the US should curtail its special ties with Europe because Europe can’t take care of its own security.

“In an election year, those who don’t believe in the relationship would use this as a platform,” he said, referring to the upcoming US presidential vote.

“There are forces at play who would use this to push the US and Europe apart. Anyone who thinks it’s a purely legal issue doesn’t understand the dynamics of the relationship,” he added.

US diplomats say they're trying to fix the problem.

“We have maintained an open dialogue with EU officials - as well as officials from those member states that require visas for travel to the United States - on this matter,” the US embassy to the EU told this website.

Mark Toner, a state department spokesman, said last Friday: “They [the five EU countrries that don’t have visa waivers] haven’t met the legal requirements, and we’re working with them and with the EU on how they can take the steps that will help them meet those requirements.”

He said outstanding issues include “stuff like low non-immigrant visa fraud” and “immigration violations.”

Seventeen percent of Romanian and 11 percent of Bulgarian visa applicants are tend to get refused US permits. The figures are lower for Croatia (5%), Cyprus (4%), and Poland (6%).

But under US law the rates must fall below 3 percent in order to qualify for a waiver.

Simonyi, who negotiated Hungary’s waiver some 10 years ago, said the biggest US concern is people who overstay their visas.

He noted that most central European states at the time negotiated with the US as a bloc, but Poland had the attitude that “we can do it on our own.”

“If Poland hadn’t gone it alone, they might well be in the waiver programme by now. The lesson for Poland is that it’s stronger when it acts as part of central Europe,” he added.

Canada and Brunei are also guilty of non-reciprocity against a handful of EU states, the commission noted on Wednesday.

The UK and Ireland would not be involved in imposing visas on US nationals because they have opt-outs from this part of EU policy.

EU and US edge toward visa fiasco

The European Commission will next week hold “political” talks on how to deal with a legal deadline for imposing visas on US and Canadian nationals.

Visa waiver dispute hangs over EU-US relations

People from Cyprus, Poland, Romania, Bulgaria and Croatia still need a visa to enter the US, prompting EU annoyance and reports of potential action against US travellers to Europe.

EU threatens to impose visas on US citizens

EU top diplomat in US, writing on behalf of 28 member states, warned of "reciprocal measures" if Congress passes bill to impose visas on EU nationals deemed security risks.

EU hopes Trump will back down on visa war

The Commission is hoping that Trump, the incoming US president, will back down in a potential visa war, but terrorist attacks in Europe could make that less likely.


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