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.