No one barks when they’re required to get a visa to travel to China, Brazil, Colombia, Egypt, or India. Even Australia, home of some of the friendliest people on Earth, who seem to have a huge warm spot in their hearts for Americans – and an even warmer spot in their wallets for Americans’ dollars – require visitors from here to obtain a visa.
But if the European Union this summer overturns its long-held policy and begins requiring Americans – and Canadians, too – to obtain visas before visiting France, Germany, Spain, Italy and 22 other E.U. member nations, you’ll be able stick your head out any window and hear the cries of outrage. Odds are that it won’t happen. But the possibility remains alive after the European Commissioners, doing what bureaucrats do best, last week avoided making a decision and pushed the deadline off another 90 days.
Currently, Americans and Canadians can visit all 28 European Union countries for business or pleasure without first obtaining a visa so long as they stay less than three months during any six-month period. But the United States does not allow citizens from all 28 E.U. nations to come to this country without first getting a visa. Those from Poland, Croatia, Cyprus, Bulgaria and Romania need a visa to come here. The Canadians require Romanians and Bulgarians to get a visa before traveling there.
Some in those European political circles that favor strengthening the E.U.’s hand and reducing the power of individual E.U. member states don’t like that one bit. Since they view the E.U. to be, de facto, a single nation they resent the lack of full reciprocity from the U.S. and Canada when it comes to travel visa requirements.
Indeed, long-existing E.U. law requires 100 percent visa waiver reciprocity with any non-E.U. nation, though it has not, to date been fully enforced against the United States and Canada. This rule does not apply to travel to the United Kingdom or Ireland, both of which long ago negotiated opt-out agreements with the E.U. that excuse them from the E.U.’s travel waiver process. So visa-less travel between those countries and the U.S. and Canada is not endangered. But, in theory, Americans and Canadians are in danger of having to get visas to travel to any of the other 26 E.U. member nations if the E.U. eventually begins enforcing its current law.
There was an April 12 deadline to begin imposing that visa rule on Americans and Canadians, but members of the European Commission, the administrative body of the E.U., balked at the prospect of dramatically reducing the $57 billion a year of goods and services that Europeans sell to visiting Americans and Canadians each year. So they delayed the decision deadline to July 12 to buy time to work out a deal that would preserve Americans’ and Canadians’ visa-less travel rights for the entire E.U.
There are good reasons why the U.S. retains visa requirements for those coming here from Bulgaria, Romania, Poland, Croatia and Cyprus. There are differences among those countries, but it boils down to the fact that U.S. immigration and security officials can’t certify the traveler identity and security clearance processes of those nations. Without such certification, the U.S. won’t offer visitors from those nations automatic visa-less entry as a way of trying to prevent entry to would-be terrorists or criminals.
The ongoing Syrian refugee crisis in Europe – especially in Central and Southeastern Europe – clearly exacerbates that problem, much to E.U.-boosters chagrin.
They want the United States – and Canada – to buy into the legal fiction that Europe is one nation. And some think that by applying pressure – hence the threat of deadlines to start forcing Americans to get visas to travel to most of Europe – the Obama administration will move in its last year in office to adopt the E.U’s position on visa reciprocity. They also fear that failing to get such a concession from the Obama administration could make getting such an agreement impossible, especially if a Republican wins the White House.