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Last month, the European Commission invited GBTA to share our views on the risks and opportunities involved with digitalizing EU visas. This is part of the EU’s effort to modernize its visa policy and overcome challenges for both public authorities and travelers.
GBTA welcomed this opportunity to provide input into the European Commission’s work and strongly supports the initiative. The EU should leverage new digital technologies to facilitate travel to the Schengen area – while upholding the highest safety standards.
Digitalizing the EU visa process can reduce what is currently a long visa application processing time by enabling business travelers to file their applications online and avoid having to make a personal appearance at consular services. A digital process would allow applicants to upload the required documents electronically, including their passport and picture. The e-visa would then be issued in an electronic form and sent by email to applicants creating a much more streamlined approach.
Many countries including Australia, Canada, New Zealand and India have already successfully digitalized their visa application processes. GBTA suggests that the European Commission set-up an exchange of “best practices” with those countries to facilitate the implementation of EU-wide e-visas.
To ensure a smooth transition, GBTA highlighted that the EU should address the digital divide in Europe and ensure that a harmonized digital procedure is implemented across all EU Member States. It will be critical to protect data integrity and privacy and ensure that public authorities safeguard their systems against data breaches and cyberattacks.
GBTA remains convinced that the benefits of digitalizing visas outweigh the potential concerns – and calls on the European Commission to support Member States when rolling-out new digital capabilities.
GBTA is committed to working hand-in-hand with the European Commission to ensure that the digitalization of visas and visa processing becomes a reality, and making sure that the EU’s visa policy takes into account business travelers’ interests.
On 25 April 2018, European policy makers concluded negotiations on a new legislation that will put in place a European Travel Information and Authorization System (ETIAS), an equivalent to the well-known Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) introduced in the United States in 2008.
The Global Business Travel Association (GBTA), representing 9,000-plus members that manage more than $345 billion of global business travel and meetings expenditures annually, congratulates EU legislators for striking the right balance between enhancing security and avoiding unnecessary burdens on business travelers.
GBTA is pleased to see that its call for a fair and reasonable system for business travelers has been taken into account by EU legislators:
The ETIAS fee will not exceed €7 and the ETIAS authorization will be valid for three years. This will allow for the system to be financially self-sufficient while not deterring business travel to the EU.
Passengers simply transiting through a Schengen country will not have to request an ETIAS authorization.
The system will apply to all visa-exempt applicants – without exemptions – between the ages of 18 and 70.
The system will allow EU Member States to conduct pre-travel screening to assess security and migration risks before issuing a Schengen visa, therefore closing the information gap on travelers entering the Schengen area without a visa. This will undoubtedly help identify any possible security concerns, thus contributing to improved travel safety as well as improved EU internal security.
ETIAS will also ease border control processes and provide visa-exempt business travelers with a reliable and early indication of their admissibility into the Schengen area.
GBTA would therefore like to call upon EU decision-makers to swiftly finalize the last legal steps to avoid any delays in the implementation of the system.
At the end of 2017, the European Commission launched a process to review the EU’s visa policy and adapt it to today’s challenges. In this context, the European Commission published its proposal to review the EU Visa Code this month meant to modernize and streamline the common European visa rules.
GBTA believes in sound and smart visa policies and earlier this year, GBTA submitted its position to the European Commission providing recommendations on the revision of the EU’s visa policy. GBTA strongly believes that the EU should ambitiously work towards achieving efficient visa policies that facilitate travel while upholding safety concerns. Business travel is the world’s largest employer and drives the success of every other industry. In this context, smart and balanced visa policies are essential to enable vetted business travelers to access European markets, thereby contributing to economic development and job creation.
GBTA is very pleased to see that most of its recommendations were taken into account in the recent Visa Code legislative proposal.
We are pleased to see that the European Commission is suggesting streamlining complex procedural requirements to obtain a Schengen visa. We are also pleased to see that Multiple Entry Visas’ procedures will be harmonized across the EU, as this will avoid certain EU countries from being more restrictive than others in delivering this specific type of visa.
However, we are concerned about the European Commission’s proposed increase of the visa application fees from €60 to €80. We call upon EU institutions to ensure fees are proportionate and enable the system to be self-sufficient financially, to avoid imposing additional tax burden on business travelers.
In our position paper, we had also called for online applications and the delivery of digital visas to be introduced as soon as possible, to simplify and accelerate the process for business travelers, while at the same time relieving consulates from administrative burden. We welcome the European Commission’s willingness to start discussions with the European Parliament and EU countries on this issue and hope these discussions will be quickly turned into concrete legislative outcomes.
GBTA remains ready to work hand-in-hand with European policymakers during the legislative process to ensure that its proposal to modernize the EU’s Visa Policy continues to take business travelers interests into account.
Recently, GBTA reported that the European Parliament called upon the European Commission to reintroduce a visa requirement for Americans traveling to Europe unless political issues over visa reciprocity between the regions are resolved. In its response to the European Parliament published last week, the European Commission argued that suspending visa reciprocity with the United States would be counterproductive to the objective of achieving visa-free travel for all EU citizens, given the significant progress and positive momentum already achieved through a diplomatic approach.
The European Commission reported that the United States reconfirmed its commitment to admit the five EU Member States (Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Poland and Romania) into the Visa Waiver Program provided each country can meet the necessary U.S. statutory requirements. GBTA welcomes this progress and looks forward to June 2017, when these five EU Member States, which are not yet part of the U.S. Visa Waiver Program, and the United States are expected to endorse a way forward on the issue.
In parallel, last Wednesday in the United States, the U.S. House of Representatives Homeland Security Committee held a hearing regarding the Visa Waiver Program to examine Visa Security and paths of entry into the United States. This comes in the wake of recent comments from Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary John Kelly, during a speech at George Washington University, who stated that the DHS needs to take a “hard look” at the Visa Waiver Program. The Secretary is concerned that as ISIS continues to diminish, many of the fighters are returning to their countries of origin, most of which are European countries in the Visa Waiver Program. The Department of Homeland Security is currently reviewing for ways to strengthen VWP to mitigate the risk that former ISIS members would exploit the VWP and travel to the United States to carry out attacks.
This approach was echoed by Michael Dougherty, Acting Assistant Secretary of Border, Immigration, and Trade Policy Office of Policy for DHS, during the hearing, who said that the Department’s intention is to start discussions on identifying additional ways of making visa free travel to the United States more secure than it is now.
"The VWP is great for American businesses and it can actually help strengthen national security in some cases by improving information sharing between the United States and our allies,” said Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-WI) who chairs the Homeland Security Committee Task Force on Denying Terrorists Entry to the United States. “At the same time, we have to work very hard to ensure this program does not help violent extremists enter our country."
GBTA supports the Department’s goal to continue and strengthen visa free travel to and from the United States. Our hope is that their vision continues to be to enhance security through the expansion of the VWP. We look forward to working with the House Homeland Security Committee and DHS as they review enhancements to the Visa Waiver Program. This vital international program encourages cooperation in the fight against potential attacks by allowing intelligence and information sharing of potential terror threats among the participating countries. It spurs job creation and economic growth, while remaining the gold standard of security and efficiency in balancing the need to protect travelers while facilitating global business travel.
In parallel, GBTA continues to urge government officials on both sides of the Atlantic to work together and come to a resolution that does not put a halt to visa-free travel that currently exists. At a time when transatlantic cooperation and stepping up our common efforts in the fight against terrorism is more important than ever, the reintroduction of visa requirements could seriously damage the relationship between these two strategic partners.
On Thursday March 2nd, the European Parliament adopted a non-binding resolution calling upon the European Commission to reintroduce a visa requirement for Americans traveling to Europe unless political issues over visa reciprocity between the regions are resolved in the next two months.
The issue centers on visa exemption reciprocity for all members of the European Union and has been on the EU political agenda since 2014 when Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Poland and Romania notified the U.S.’s failure to implement visa reciprocity to the European Commission. The United States declined to grant visa reciprocity for these five countries because they do not meet the criteria to be included in the Visa Waiver Program. Despite continued pressure to do so, the European Commission had not suspended visa-free travel for American citizens given the potential economic and administrative implications.
GBTA strongly urges government officials on both sides of the ocean to work together through this challenge and come to a resolution that does not put a halt to visa-free travel that currently exists. At a time when transatlantic cooperation and stepping up our common efforts in the fight against terrorism is more important than ever, the reintroduction of visa requirements could seriously damage the relationship between these two strategic partners.
The current waiver agreement encourages cooperation in the fight against potential attacks by allowing intelligence and information sharing of potential terror threats among the participating countries. It spurs job creation and economic growth, while remaining the gold standard of security and efficiency in balancing the need to protect travelers while facilitating global business travel. It is a vital tool for promoting international trade.
Additionally, the expense and cost to the EU will have a large negative impact. The suspension would require processing 10 million annual visa applications. Managing this would take serious efforts, increased staffing, new infrastructure and cost millions of euros to handle this increased demand. And if as expected the United States retaliates, EU citizens and companies would also face roughly €2.5 billion in costs as a result of the United States responding with its own suspension, ending visa-free travel for EU citizens to the United States – meaning roughly 8 million travelers would need to pay the $160 visa fee and related application costs.
A recent Oxford Economics study also revealed that ending visa reciprocity would lead to a 23 percent decline in travel revenue for the United States and Canada. The study also showed more than 200,000 total jobs could be at risk projecting 140,000 jobs could be lost in Europe and an additional 73,000 lost in the United States.
A suspension would create a lasting, negative impact on business travel, which accounted for an estimated $1.2 trillion dollars in global spending last year. The global economy already faces many uncertainties, and this move could deal a devastating blow to further economic growth.
GBTA, as always, will continue to press the importance of visa-free travel reciprocity between the EU and the United States and the message that together we are stronger, and will encourage our European and American leaders to search for common ground to avoid suspension of a vital international program.
During GBTA Conference 2016 Frankfurt in partnership with VDR last week, GBTA Executive Director Mike McCormick and VDR Executive Director Hans-Ingo Biehl delivered a speech from Centre Stage focused on our collective advocacy efforts in the EU as we work to deliver a pro-business travel message to the elected and appointed governmental decision makers in Brussels.
Here is a transcript of the full speech:
MIKE: Last year, Ingo and I announced the launch of our advocacy initiative on behalf of the business travel industry in Europe. Our collective efforts have resulted in delivering a very effective pro-business travel message to the elected and appointed governmental decision makers in Brussels.
We knew the time had come for us to make this investment in our collective future. We began with not a moment to spare as immigration worries, terrorism events and global economic upheaval threaten the future of not just our industry – but every other industry – as business travel drives business growth globally.
Brexit was something the experts said wouldn’t happen. Just this past week, the United States capped one of the most turbulent elections in recent history and against all polls elected a hotelier named Donald Trump.
And although it might feel like these are isolated events or unusual times, the future likely holds even more uncertainty as more countries face elections as part of an overall global political realignment.
INGO: It is for these reasons that we as a group, as an industry, must remain connected and active in our efforts to ensure safely vetted business travelers continue to have access to European markets. As we can attest, free movement of people is essential to stimulating economic growth and creating jobs in Europe.
With the current terrorism threats and a refugee crisis, enhancing security must remain a key priority for European authorities. However, we must continue to remind them to support legislative proposals that continue to allow the efficient movement of low risk business travelers entering and exiting the EU.
MIKE: But unfortunately, some of these discussions both in Brussels and the United States are taking a worrisome direction. For instance, if the EU was to re-introduce trip-by-trip visa requirements for U.S. business travelers - and this could actually happen - this would severely impact your ability to do your job, place further stress on consulates’ resources and set back the current strategic relationship between the EU and the United States.
This is part of a much larger debate on issues ranging from the future of the sharing economy to the implementation of Brexit – we’ll have more on that in a minute for you as we host a Brexit debate here on stage.
INGO: This is why we are here this week, meeting and discussing business travel topics and future messaging to our politicians to ensure business travel continues to grow and remains safe, yet efficient.
With our different opinions, experiences and beliefs, we are a microcosm of the entire global economy. We will have debates and disagreements. But, the one thing we must not forget is that Together We Are Stronger.
European policymakers have a key role to make business travel safer and more efficient. We look forward to joining forces to ensure that business travel remains a catalyst for economic development in Europe.
At our record-breaking conference this November in Frankfurt, I took the stage with German Business Travel Association VDR’s Hans-Ingo Biehl to talk about advocacy efforts and policy issues in the EU that impact our industry.
GBTA is working in Europe, Latin America and North America to advance business travel through advocacy. That involves educating decision makers on the economic importance of business travel, advocating for policies that improve aspects of business travel and opposing efforts that hinder business travel.
With our united voices across the globe, we can seek to move forward a business travel agenda with smarter and safer passenger screening, taxation and fees that benefits the traveler, not overburden them, and infrastructure that meets the needs of the traveler.
Working with our partners in the EU, we identified policy issues to focus on that have the greatest impact on our industry including Schengen visas, ensuring a more competitive European aviation sector, shifting away from a one-size-fits-all approach to airport security guidelines, updating air traffic management to form a single European sky and ensuring traveler taxes are reinvested into transportation infrastructure, among others.
After the conference ended, I traveled to Brussels for our first round of engagement with key policymakers in the EU.
We met with key players in the Council of Member States, the European Parliament and the European Commission:
Mr Marinescu became the first European Member of Parliament that GBTA has met with.
We shared our messages on the importance of passenger efficiency and security, fair taxation and investments in transportation infrastructure. We also discussed the EU-U.S. Safe Harbor Agreement, aviation emissions and the sharing economy.
The policymakers were very receptive and we plan to continue engaging with them by sharing relevant data and information, so that we as an industry can help move the agenda forward. Advocacy does not happen overnight. Building relationships with these policymakers however, and understanding how we can help them, puts us in a position to make our collective industry voice heard.
We can only be effective if we are all engaged. This is just the beginning of our advocacy efforts in Europe, and with input from our partner associations and you, our members, GBTA can act as a voice across the globe for the business travel industry.
When President Obama addressed the nation Sunday night to discuss the threat from ISIS, he seemed to suggest that one of America’s most important and effective security programs – the Visa Waiver Program – should be placed under review. However, the President misspoke, and the White House corrected the error within minutes.
This correction is critically important because the Visa Waiver Program is today an essential element in America’s efforts to protect our homeland. Since its inception in 1986, it has evolved into a comprehensive security partnership with our closest allies and prevents tens of thousands of unauthorized visitors from entering our country every year.
In light of the recent attacks, there’s no question that reasonable steps can and should be taken to further strengthen the program, and Congress and the White House are working out the details of legislative reforms today, a process that GBTA publically supports. Additional layers of security — including new restrictions on individuals who have traveled recently to Syria, Iraq, Iran or Sudan – are necessary to keep pace with the evolving threats.
But the fact is that the Visa Waiver Program is needed now more than ever, and policymakers should make sure that the program remains workable, even as they make reforms. We need risk-based programs like this one, so that we can focus our attention and limited resources on the most significant threats.
With the program, we can effectively vet millions of visitors to our country a year. Without it, travel would grind to a halt, which would do nothing to make us more secure and would harm our nation’s economy.
Here’s how it works:
The program allows citizens of 38 countries to travel to the United States for business or leisure for up to 90 days without a visa. In return, those 38 countries must permit U.S. citizens and residents to travel to their countries for a similar length of time without a visa for business or tourism purposes.
The program provides for individualized pre-screening of travelers, as well as for information sharing among governments, enhanced international partnerships with law enforcement and intelligence services, and more secure passports.
No Visa Waiver Program traveler may be admitted to the United States until all security checks are completed and travel information is checked against multiple national security, law enforcement and INTERPOL’s databases before travel authorization is granted.
Additionally, commercial carriers operating flights to, from or through the United States must provide detailed name and biographical traveler data to the government. This data is then screened against U.S. and international law enforcement and counterterrorism databases to identify high-risk individuals before they depart for the United States. All Visa Waiver Program travelers are subject to this vetting.
This multi-layered approach has prevented terrorists, serious criminals and other bad actors from traveling to the United States. This includes 165,000 individuals carrying passports reported as lost or stolen and 6,000 individuals who did not receive electronic travel authorization.
Last year, 20 million visitors traveled to the U.S. under the visa waiver program, injecting hundreds of millions of dollars into the U.S. economy. Without the program, travel to the U.S. would dry up and there would be serious economic impact.
So as Congress and the White House consider reforms to this program, let them know we need the Visa Waiver Program for a strong and secure America.
This morning we released findings from GBTA’s BTI™ Outlook semi-annual forecast reports on Brazil, China, India and Russia, sponsored by Visa, Inc. Our VP of research, Joe Bates, is also presenting the results this week at ITB Asia in Singapore. In the latest round of forecasts, we found the BRICs are no longer acting as a bloc when it comes to business travel.
China and India business travel will continue to grow at double digit rates over the next two years, a clear indication of the resiliency and strength of both economies. Despite recent economic turmoil, China business travel spending is projected to grow at 11.2 percent in 2015 and 10.7 percent in 2016. China is poised to become the global leader in business travel by mid-2016, with business travel spending forecasted to increase by more than 60 percent from 2014 to 2019.
Additionally, strong momentum powers business travel growth in India, projected to be 11.1 percent in both 2015 and 2016. This is a reflection of an improving business climate under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, as well as the high levels of domestic economic activity.
On the other hand, domestic business travel in Brazil continues to weaken as unemployment has hit a five-year low, consumer spending continues to slow and the Brazilian Real has been devalued. Russian business travel growth faces serious headwinds as well. In total, GBTA expects business travel spending in Russia to fall 17 percent in 2015 to $17.5 billion USD.
A decade ago, it looked like these four nations would develop in lockstep, with high rates of growth across the board. But their paths have diverged sharply as a result of the unique political and economic situations in each country. China and India continue to be business travel juggernauts, a reflection of the underlying strength of both economies even in a tough global economic environment. Brazil and Russia, on the other hand, face growing economic turbulence, turmoil and uncertainty.
Stay tuned for future posts from our research team digging deeper into the forecasts for each country.