Visa Wars

Visa Wars

The European commission seems to be moving closer to deciding to implement a new visa hurdle for USA and Canadian citizens traveling through the European Schengen countries.

That excludes UK and Ireland, but the hotspots like Italy, Switzerland, Spain, France, and Germany will all be affected.

So what is it all about?  Well, under US entry requirements, the US will not allow visitors from the European Union who reside in Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Poland, and Romania to enter without a visa.  Under the EU law and EU prior agreement, there is a reciprocity between the EU and the USA and Canada that enables USA citizens to travel visa-free in the EU, and EU citizens to enter the USA via the visa waiver program using the ESTA protocol.  Now in these complicated days, and partly because of Schengen, the USA is no longer prepared to except visitors from the countries specified.

The Schengen Agreement is a treaty which led to the creation of Europe’s borderless areas.  It was signed near the town of Schengen, Luxembourg in 1985 and in 1990 a supplemental agreement proposed to abolish internal border controls and a common visa policy.  The Schengen treaties were adopted into the European Union law almost 10 years later and today allow citizens and tourists alike to freely travel from country to country.  The Schengen area operates pretty much like a single state for international travel purposes – no passport control at airports or borders.  It currently covers 26 European countries and a population of over 400 million.  The only opt-out countries are Ireland and the United Kingdom but Schengen is a core part of EU law and EU member states without an opt-out anymore.  Any country joining Europe has to opt into Schengen.

So with the proposal of this new EU policy, of course everybody is up in arms.  Really until the EU sorts out its Schengen borders, this issue could have a dramatic effect on USA tourism to Europe and probably would reduce down tourism to the Schengen countries by about 30%. How scary is that Europe?

Understandably, the USA is holding firm.  It is election year and these are issues that nobody wants to touch.

In addition, the USA points out that the reciprocity between the principle players in Europe and the USA can stand alone.  But the EU is having none of this.  The European Parliament is very close to voting to institute a visa fee for all USA and Canada citizens that travel beyond Ireland and the UK.  In other words, the EU commission is treating this deal as a big deal.  The rights of all EU citizens whether they are Italian or Romanian have to be seen to be equal.  The selection of some member states for visa requirements is considered to be anathema.

The USA has had a two-year warning on this but now this period has expired.

If the parliament votes to create this, it will cause confusion, madness, a loss of tourism, and simply add to the chaos of the current Schengen mess.

All of this comes at a moment when the Europeans are in a quandary.  Austria has just introduced a “border management” plan at the Brenner Pass due to the current crisis.  In addition, multiple spot checks are occurring on many frontiers throughout Europe.  So while the letter of the law, in this case the Schengen Agreement, is a marvelous example of the freedom to move within a block of countries without passports or controls, the current migrant crisis has made this a can of worms too.  Greece, Italy, and Spain are all the recipients of most of the migrants that come to Europe illegally.  Their main goal is to move those migrants on.  That is pretty easy through the Schengen Agreement which is why many border controls are being put back up.

This is the rub though – Americans are feeling a little a bit of trepidation about traveling to Europe anyhow with the recent attacks.  Now if they have to buy a visa (goodness knows how long that will take as there is no infrastructure to do this) and then have to wait in long lines on passport controls, you have a mess beyond a mess.  The cost of all of this will impact the approximately 50 billion Euro economy that tourism brings and that represents a lot of jobs!  This is an export industry at the same level as the automotive sector.

What to do?  The smart thing to do would let go of the “holier than thou” stance in Europe and continue with the near reciprocity that we have.  If the Europeans stick to their guns, and the Americans stick to theirs, then you have a visa war as well as a migrant war and the economic consequences of that will have untold effects on European tourism and the European economy. Hardly a time to wage this kind of war when tourists are in shorter and shorter supply!

My two cents….let it be.

Image courtesy of

Leave a Reply