On most packing lists, travelers bound for Europe jot down — and check off — such essentials as a passport, international charger and sensible shoes. A recent proposal from across the pond could add a new mandatory item that will jump to the top of the page: a visa.
Last week, members of the European parliament voted to repeal visa-free travel for Americans planning to visit the 28-country bloc. The legislators were responding to a U.S. rule requiring citizens of five European Union countries to obtain visas to enter the country. The exclusion of Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Poland and Romania from the visa-waiver program violates the reciprocity agreement — basically, if we don’t make your people procure the document, you don’t make ours. It also challenges the E.U.’s core principle of equal treatment for all its nations.
“I have heard that threat before. It comes up anytime there is an issue with visas,” said Barbara Bodine, director of the Institute for the Study of Diplomacy at Georgetown University. “But this time, it has more salience.”
The U.S. requirement for the five E.U. nations is not new; it predates the Trump administration by several years. Nor is the United States the only government to single out these countries. Australia, Canada, Brunei and Japan followed a similar protocol, but they changed their policy in response to Europe’s concerns.
Bodine says the directive from Europe carries more weight in the current environment. One factor: President Trump’s initial travel ban, which ensnared many Europeans, including a British Muslim teacher who was en route to New York last month but was denied entry.
“It adds an extra twist to the concern European members have about our visa and travel regulations,” the former diplomat said.
The European parliament recommended that the European Commission revoke Americans’ visa-free privileges within two months. But don’t start swapping Quebec City for Paris just yet: The vote is nonbinding. In addition, Bodine says the European parliament does not have the authority to set national laws.
“This is more of an advisory,” she said, “but it does put down a marker.”
Justin Chapman is cautiously optimistic. The director of sales at VisaHQ, which assists travelers with visa applications, calls the vote “a warning shot.” However, if the E.U. proceeds with the plan, Chapman expects the document will resemble the Electronic System for Travel Authorization, the e-form that visa-waiver countries (38 in all) must submit before visiting the United States. The application costs $14, a price tag Chapman says the E.U. might replicate. He estimates a processing time of at least five business days.
Most likely, the extra time and expense will not stop Americans from vacationing in Europe. But the visa requirement could curb a more impulsive and romantic travel urge.
“It would really slow down the, ‘Gee, why don’t we go to Paris for the weekend?’ ” type of travel, Bodine said.
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