A visa war is brewing between the European Union and the United States, and travelers from both sides appear to be caught in the middle.
Although no changes to visa policies have been made yet, the European Parliament said Thursday that U.S. travelers should be forced to apply—and pay—for visas to travel in Europe after the United States failed to renew a special relationship that did not require visas for travelers from both sides heading to or from the EU.
That special relationship, dubbed “visa reciprocity,” is the heart of the issue. Currently, while the United States welcomes residents of 23 EU countries visa-free, citizens of Cyprus and former Communist countries such as Bulgaria, Croatia, Poland, and Romania must obtain visas first—a double-standard that has angered the EU for years. (In other words, this issue predates the current presidency.)
With this week’s move, the EU’s leadership group, the European Commission, said that if the United States doesn’t honor visa-free travel for all EU nations, the EU shouldn’t honor it for the United States.
According to NPR, the situation is a textbook case of brinksmanship; the EU’s move effectively sets a deadline for the EU Commission to act if the United States doesn’t change its policy. That deadline is up June 15. Realistically, the Commission could miss the deadline altogether; a Reuters story suggested the group may not even respond until summer.
If the new visa requirements are introduced, they would be temporary, at least according to EU officials quoted in a number of different articles. They also would wreak havoc, especially on Europe’s economy.
An article in the Telegraph newspaper out of London explained exactly how disruptive the new requirements might be, with insight from Eduardo Santander, executive director of the European Travel Council.
“Making it more difficult for U.S. citizens to travel to Europe would certainly deprive the European travel and tourism sector of essential revenue,” Santander was quoted as saying. He added that new visa requirements would “put thousands of European jobs at stake in one of the few sectors which experiences a strong growth in employment.”
The impact of these requirements for travelers would be significant, too. Right now, a U.S. resident can grab his or her passport, hop on a plane, and go to any of the 23 EU countries with which the United States currently practices reciprocity. Under the new rules, however, travelers from the United States would have to purchase visas in advance to visit the same countries, much as they do for when they visit Brazil, China, and other nations.
Not only would the new process add time and energy to the airport experience, but trips also would be more expensive, since travelers would have to pay fees for visa processing before departure.
For all of these reasons, let’s hope the “visa war” doesn’t amount to much of anything, and that this international game of brinksmanship ends with no formal changes to visa requirements overall.
Matt Villano is a freelance writer and editor based in Healdsburg, California. In nearly 20 years as a full-time freelancer, he has covered travel for publications including TIME, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, Sunset, Backpacker, Entrepreneur, and more. He contributes to the Expedia Viewfinder blog and writes a monthly food column for Islands magazine. Villano also serves on the board of the Family Travel Association and blogs about family travel at Wandering Pod. Learn more about him at Whalehead.com