Stronger Together: GBTA Urges Policymakers to Keep Visa-Free Travel Reciprocity in Place Between Europe and the United States

GBTA has long supported and advocated for the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) in the United States, which allows citizens of participating countries to travel to the United States without obtaining a visa for stays of up to 90 days for business or leisure, but not for employment, study or residency. By making it easier for international travelers from friendly countries to visit, VWP helps drive U.S. economic growth, spur job creation and create a more positive impression of the United States around the world.

Recent actions on visa policy both in the United States and in Europe have raised serious concerns in the global travel industry. The latest issue centers on reciprocity for all members of the European Union.  EU law defines that third countries that have a visa exemption to travel to the EU have to ensure reciprocity for all EU citizens. Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Poland and Romania have raised the issue to the European Commission of the United States’ failure to implement reciprocity. If it is deemed that sufficient action to meet this requirement hasn’t been taken, then the EU is bound to suspend the exemption. Check out this communication to the European Parliament and the Council for more background information on the issue.

Last week, GBTA met with officials in Brussels to stress the importance of visa reciprocity. We learned that the European Commission and the majority of Member States will seek to avoid disruption to the visa exemption scheme. Some groups in the European Parliament are pressuring the European Commission to take legal action to suspend the visa exemption for U.S. citizens traveling to the EU. If no action is taken, Members of the European Parliament threatened to refer the matter to the European Court of Justice.

GBTA strongly urges European policymakers to ensure that the current discussions on visa reciprocity with the United States do not lead to a re-introduction of visa requirements for U.S. citizens traveling to the EU. Reintroducing visa requirements could seriously damage the relationship between these two strategic partners at a time when transatlantic cooperation and stepping up our common efforts in the fight against terrorism is more important than ever.

For current VWP members, suspension of the program would undercut current intelligence and information sharing of potential terror threats. 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. Additionally, a recent Oxford Economics study revealed that ending visa reciprocity would lead to a 22 percent decline in travel revenue for the United States and Canada.

The current waiver agreement encourages cooperation in the fight against terror attacks, facilitates travel, spurs job creation and economic growth and is a vital tool for promoting international trade. 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 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.