GBTA: Suspension of Visa-Free Travel Between U.S. and EU Would Have Negative Consequences

European Union flags waving in front of the EU Parliament building in Brussels
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The Global Business Travel Association (GBTA) is urging government officials in the United States and European Union to work together to preserve visa-free travel between the United States and most EU member nations. 

In a recent statement, the GBTA became the latest travel industry organization to weigh in on the March 2 vote by the EU Parliament to restrict visa-free travel from the U.S. over an ongoing dispute regarding visa reciprocity between the U.S. and certain EU member states. 

"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 GBTA said in a written release. "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."

The GBTA also warned that suspending visa-free travel would have a "large negative impact," including an additional 10 million annual visa applications to process. Managing that would take increased staffing, infrastructure and costs to handle the demand. Additionally, the GBTA warned that if the United States retaliates with its own suspension of visa-free travel, it could mean approximately €2.5 billion in costs to EU citizens as roughly 8 million travelers would need to pay the $160 visa fee and other application costs. 

The GBTA also cited an Oxford Economics study that projected a 23 percent decline in travel revenue for the U.S. and Canada as a result of a suspension, as well as a projected 140,000 jobs lost in Europe and 73,000 jobs 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 GBTA said. "The global economy already faces many uncertainties, and this move could deal a devastating blow to further economic growth."

Other travel industry organizations, such as Travel Leaders Group, have also spoken out against the proposal

“Travel Leaders Group urges all parties to find a solution that does not impose new visa restrictions,” said Travel Leaders Group Ninan Chacko in a written release. “We believe visa free travel is mutually beneficial, and that new restrictions will adversely affect U.S. and European business travel and tourism industries.”

At the same time, industry experts we’ve spoken with largely agree that any EU visa requirement for U.S. citizens this year is unlikely.

“This was a procedural action that they’re taking as part of a larger dialogue on the Visa Waiver Program,” says Patricia Rojas, vice president of public affairs at the U.S. Travel Association.

To move forward, the European Commission, the executive branch of the European Union, would need to take action on the vote, which is nonbinding. If a country does not allow visa-free travel from all EU members, the European Commission, the executive branch of the EU, is obligated to move to rescind visa-free travel from that country under EU regulations – although it can also consider the political and economic consequences of such a decision.

The vote is the latest in an ongoing dispute over visa reciprocity between the United States and the European Union. A principle of the EU’s common visa policy, visa reciprocity requires countries whose citizens can travel visa-free to the EU to also allow visa-free travel from all EU member nations. While the United States has bilateral agreements allowing visa-free travel from most EU members, travelers from Poland, Croatia, Cyprus, Romania and Bulgaria are still required to have visas.